By Ruth A. Pagell*
(28 March 2017) Ruth’s Rankings 24 is based on Malaysian news articles that chronicle the changes in funding to Malaysia’s premier research universities following the release of the Ministry of Education’s Malaysia Education Blueprint 2015-2025 (Higher Education) – MEB – in 2015. In preparing the article, I read many news articles and government documents, and drilled down into different datasets. My most important takeaways are
- The Malaysian Higher Education System ranks higher than its individual institutions. The rankings for the Malaysian higher education system have improved since 2012 (U21)
- More Malaysian universities joined global rankings since the MEB 2014 benchmark data
- The government is implementing its performance and outcome based funding as spelled out in MEB Shift 5, Financial Stability, with the five research universities losing an average of 37% of their funding since 2014 (Chan 8 Jan 2017)
Malaysia’s higher education system and its universities have increased their presence in university rankings as the rankers add more universities Last June, The Star Online (Rahman) listed many positives about the Malaysian system.(Rahman (23 June 2016). He reported on the British Council report, “The shape of higher education” (Llieva and Peak, 2016). Compared to other countries in the analysis, Malaysia and Germany have the most balanced portfolio of national policies supporting higher education.
MEB emphasizes the overall system, not just the research universities but also institutions preparing undergraduates for employability. Therefore, it is spreading the higher education budget across all segments. Extensive budget cuts to the top research universities followed the release of MEB in 2015.This should not have come as a surprise to the institutions and the newspapers reporting the news since changes in funding are a prominent part of the plan. The surprise is the speed of the implementation and its immediate impacts. See Appendix 24.A for details of the five aspirations and the ten initiatives or shifts and the template for each shift.
Higher Education Organization
The higher education landscape as of March, 2017 includes 20 public universities, in addition to public polytechnics and public colleges and 50 private universities, 29 university colleges and about 200 private colleges, some with multiple locations. StudyMalaysia.com‘s overview (14 March 2015) is a good starting point for learning about the structure of the system even though it was prepared before the presentation of the Blueprint.
The Malaysian Government Qualifications Agency (MQA) set up in 2007 under MOHE. provides a qualifications framework and a registry of accredited institutions’ programmes. It is updated daily. MQA created voluntary institutional and discipline-based rating systems that had been published biennially. (SETARA and D-SETARA). They include public and private universities and university colleges. The last rating available is from 2013. I contacted several government and non-government organizations in my quest for 2015 rankings, but no one replied to my emails. MyQuest rates the private colleges. 2014/2015 are the latest ratings.
The Malaysian Higher Education System
One of the performance indicators of MEB is improvement in the rankings of the Malaysian higher education system in the U21 Rankings of Higher Education Systems 2016 (see Ruth’s Rankings 20). Malaysia now ranks 27 out of 50 and has been rising. Its highest ranking is in resources (13) and its lowest in output (43). The system was highly rated in a recent study by the British Council (Llieva and Peak, 2016). See Table 24.1 for the British Council rankings, U21, scholarly rankings by research output from Nature and Incites, and other rankings effecting global competitiveness. Comparisons use the benchmarking countries from MEB.
The Blueprint also refers to the international rankings of pre-tertiary education with a goal of being in the top third world-wide.
PISA, The Programme for International Student Assessment, provides education rankings based on international tests taken by 15-year-olds in maths, reading and science. The OECD. Administers the test every three years. When the 2015 results were released in December 2016, the Malaysian government proudly announced an increase in performance across the sectors. They omitted the fact that Malaysia had been disqualified because of low response rate (Lim, March 27, 2017). The 2015 rankings are not in the official OECD report (Siang, Dec 2016) . The second ranking is Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS). Of 37 countries Malaysia ranked 22 in maths and 24 in science with females outperforming males in both. See Table 24.2 Pre-Tertiary rankings.
BIBLIOMETRCS AND RANKINGS
SciVal and InCites
Before examining any rankings, I referenced the two primary analytic sources of bibliometric data for scholarly output, SciVal and InCites. I merged the two files getting, I think, 75 unique institutions with 39 in both. The underlying datasets, Scopus and Web of Science, include more institutions. This proved more difficult than anticipated. There are differences in institutional names between the two external sources and between these sources and Malaysian sources, which even differ internally. An example is Universiti Multimedia or Multimedia University. The latter name is used in the MQA ratings and both names are used in MQA’s registry, depending on the campus. Table 24.3 Alphabetical Merged List presents the names as they appear in the Accreditation Registry.
HINT: If an institution has an abbreviation, make note of it since that is consistent in English and Malaysian.
Internal Ratings: SETARA and MyQuest
The MQA rated public and private universities under a scheme called SETARA, carried out biennially from 2007 to 2013. SETARA “measured performance of teaching and learning at the undergraduate level”. 53 universities participated in SETARA ‘13, the last available rating. SETARA has six levels, with six being the highest. In the 2013 ratings, no university received a rank of six and over 75% received a grade of five, “excellent” and the remaining 11 rated four, or “very good”. D-SETARA rated four individual disciplines:
- Engineering – 25 institutions with 11 rated “5”; 13 rated ”4” and one rated “3”.
- Medicine, Dentistry and Pharmacy – 14 institutions, with 11“4s” two “3s” and a one.
- Health Sciences – 13 institutions, with five “5s,” six “4s” and two “3’s”.
- Hospitality &Tourism – Six institutions with one six, three 5s, a four and a three
See D-SETARA (Summary Instrument) for the information used for ratings.
MyQuest is a self-assessment exercise, measuring the quality of higher education services, quality of programmes, and readiness of the college to recruit international students. See the user manual for more information. The latest rating is 2014/2015 with 406 registered private colleges and 199 granted a rating. Ratings are at the level of the individual campus. Many of the colleges are also affiliated with universities or university colleges. 30% were rated 6 or 5. The Ministry is collecting data for the next iteration during March 2017. These institutions only appear in commercial rankings in Webometrics because they do not meet the inclusion standards.
Using the comprehensive rankings for Malaysia is not very helpful. The same five research universities appear.: U Malaya, U Sains Malaysia, U Putra Malaysia, U Teknologi Malaysia and U Kebangsaan Malaysia (Nasional U). Fewer than10 universities are ranked in the QS, Times, US News, ARWU, Taiwan and Leiden rankings. MOE uses QS as its benchmark, but even QS has warned them not to only use their rankings. (Shukry, 2015)
For several years, the top Malaysian universities did not participate in the Times World University Rankings. In 2015-2016 four were ranked, increasing to seven in 2016-2017. The University of Malaya finally participated in the newly released 2017- Asian rankings (email from Phil Baty, 2017). The March 2017 New Flash describes these rankings. The focus highlights Malaysia as an up and comer (Register for supplement)
Table 24.4 shows the top universities in selected rankings. Download Appendix 24 B Full rankings, a spreadsheet with two sheets – commercial and scholarly – for full rankings.
Engineering is the top field based on output data from both SciVal and Incites. It has the highest field weighted citation impact in Incites. In ScVal its citation impact is above SciVal’s world average. The field with the highest SciVal citation impact is energy. Only four Malaysian universities have overall field weighted citation impact above SciVal’s world average. Nature’s Malaysia Country Outlook also includes outputs by subject. Appendix 24 C Subjects has two figures illustrating the output by field from both Incites and SciVal and a spreadsheet showing field rankings in QS world rankings.
In Ruth’s Rankings 23 I expressed my disappointment with the HEPI report, “International higher education rankings: For good or ill?” and its lack of statistics and research. MEB is well organized and documented with statistics presented in a variety of ways. MOE designed the Blueprint to spread the funding out to more institutions of higher education to provide education for the growing number of students attending the newer colleges and to focus on national needs. This was something that the flagship model encourages. At the same time, the report focuses on bibliometrics and Malaysian universities’ performance on the world stage. In an interview with the New Straits Times, Higher Education Minister Datuk Seri Idris Jusoh.said “The way we are soaring upwards, I believe in 20 to 30 years, we will be able to stand alongside the likes of Oxford, Cambridge and Harvard” (Hamid, 2016). Here lies the challenge. Cuts have been made too quickly without adequate planning for outside finding.
It is too early to tell whether this is a blueprint for raising the level of all Malaysian higher education institutions or a plan that will jeopardize the research performance of the best universities.
Malaysian Qualifications Agency Act 2007 accessed at http://www.mqa.gov.my/PortalMQAv3/red/en/profil_MQA.cfm with a registry at http://www2.mqa.gov.my/mqr/
Ministry of Education (2015) Executive Summary: Malaysia Education Blueprint https://www.um.edu.my/docs/default-source/about-um_document/media-centre/um-magazine/4-executive-summary-pppm-2015-2025.pdf?sfvrsn=4
Malaysian Local Articles
Chan, Adrian (8 Jan 2017). It’s getting tougher for UM – Nation | The Star Online Cached “The academic staff is the latest casualty in an austerity drive at Universiti Malaya (UM), the country’s premier institution of higher …” Includes chart of budget cuts
Cheng, Hwee Ming (11 Jan 2017). Budget cut will also affect the quality of teaching. The Star Online Letters.http://www.thestar.com.my/opinion/letters/2017/01/11/budget-cut-will-also-affect-quality-of-teaching/
Hamid, A.J. & Aziz, H. (24 August 2016). Malaysia aims to have varsities in the same league as Oxford, Cambridge within 20 years. New Straits Times. Interview with Minster of Higher Education http://www.nst.com.my/news/2016/08/167849/malaysia-aims-have-varsities-same-league-oxford-cambridge-within-20-years
Lim, Ida. (27 March 2017). Minister: No manipulation of PISA data, but Malaysia cannot repeat ‘technical’ mistake. Malaymail Online. http://www.themalaymailonline.com/malaysia/article/minister-no-manipulation-of-pisa-data-but-malaysia-cant-repeat-technical-mi
Rahman, D. (23 June 2016). Malaysia’s higher education mid-year report. The Star Online http://www.thestar.com.my/opinion/online-exclusive/whats-your-status/2016/06/23/malaysia-higher-education-2016/
Siang, Lim Sit (Dec 2016) PISA 2015 a major setback for Malaysia Education Blueprint 2013-2025 to achieve above global average and be in top one-third of countries in international educational standards in less than a decade by 2025 https://blog.limkitsiang.com/2016/12/08/pisa-2015-a-major-setback-for-malaysia-education-blueprint-2013-2025-to-achieve-above-global-average-and-be-in-top-one-third-of-countries-in-international-educational-standards-in-less-than-a-decade/
Shukry, A. (2 May 2015). Don’t rely on our university rankings alone, QS tells Putrjaya. The Malaysian Insider printed in Lim Sit Siang for Malaysia ttps://blog.limkitsiang.com/2015/05/02/dont-rely-on-our-university-rankings-alone-qs-tells-putrajaya/
Sirat, D.M. and Chang, W. (25 October 2016). Dealing with Budget Realities in Letters. The Star Online http://www.thestar.com.my/opinion/letters/2016/10/25/dealing-with-budget-reality/
StudyMalaysia.com (4/3/2015). The Malaysian Higher Education System – An Overview [This was not updated to incorporate the Blueprint.] https://www.studymalaysia.com/education/higher-education-in-malaysia/the-malaysian-higher-education-system-an-overview
Baty, Phil. THE Asia university rankings, 2016 (https://www.timeshighereducation.com/world-university-rankings/2016/regional-ranking#!/page/0/length/25/sort_by/rank/sort_order/asc/cols/stats)
NOTE: Claim digital supplement by filling in online form)
Chapman, D. and Chien. C-L (2014) Expanding out and up: what are the system-level dynamics? Case study of Malaysia and Thailand. In UNESCO Institute of Statistics, Higher education in Asia: expanding out, expanding up: the rise of graduate education and university research, pp. 37-48). Retrieved from http://www.uis.unesco.org/Library/Documents/higher-education-asia-graduate-university-research-2014-en.pdf
Llieva, J. and Peak M. (2016). “The Shape of Global Higher Education: National Policies Framework for International Engagement”, British Council, F301 https://www.britishcouncil.org/sites/default/files/f310_tne_international_higher_education_report_final_v2_web.pdf
A list of Ruth’s Rankings and News Updates is here.
*Ruth A .Pagell is currently an adjunct faculty [teaching] in the Library and Information Science Program at the University of Hawaii. Before joining UH, she was the founding librarian of the Li Ka Shing Library at Singapore Management University. She has written and spoken extensively on various aspects of librarianship, including contributing articles to ACCESS – https://orcid.org/0000-0003-3238-9674.