PETALING JAYA: Academics have urged local higher education institutions to improve the quality of their programmes and lecturers instead of chasing high university rankings, after Malaysia’s oldest institution of higher learning fell out of the top 10 in a prominent global index.
Former Malaysian Academic Movement secretary Rosli Mahat said universities had resorted to unethical research practices and spending large resources to boost their positions in global university rankings.
He claimed that universities were encouraging “citation padding” and “gifted and forced authorship” to increase their publication scores.
Citation padding is an attempt to legitimise one’s work by adding references to reputable papers. Gifted authorship refers to the crediting of individuals who did not contribute to the research for favour, while forced authorship refers to a situation where a student is coerced by his superior to share the credit even though the student did all the work.
“The current research does not look at (producing) new knowledge, but focuses on getting works published. They will consider: ‘How many papers can I produce from this project?’
“This is the wrong motivation for research,” Rosli told FMT.
Rosli said university rankings would naturally rise once the fundamentals of good academia, such as the quality of programmes and lecturers, improved.
“Local universities only work hard to improve on the QS ranking indicators, such as the number of published papers and foreign students and lecturers on the campus. I don’t think these are good indicators of a good university. It should be the number of professional lecturers and researchers.
“Universities should work (on improving) the programmes and their lecturers so that (better) rankings will follow naturally,” he added.
On Nov 8, The Star reported that Universiti Malaya had fallen out of the top 10 list in the Quacquarelli Symonds World University Rankings: Asia 2024.
UM was ranked 11th for 2024 after falling two places from this year’s ranking. Second in the country was Universiti Putra Malaysia, which improved from 27 to 25, while Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia was third after moving from 30 to 28 on the list.
Former education minister Maszlee Malik concurred with Rosli, saying that rankings “are not the be-all and end-all for universities”.
While admitting that high rankings would boost the reputation of Malaysian universities and attract enrolment from international students, he said universities should focus on improving their substance and quality.
“High rankings are useless if a university is not, for instance, friendly towards people with disabilities, the environment, marginalised communities and those who have been oppressed,” said Maszlee.
Meanwhile, Parent Action Group for Education Malaysia chair Noor Azimah Abdul Rahim urged public universities to remove any racial preferences in their enrolment if they wished to improve their rankings.
“(Public universities should) gradually relax the advantages that the New Economic Policy has brought for the dominant race and encourage students to take courses that will bring economic prosperity,” she said.