Sunday, August 12, 2007

Why are we not on the Shanghai JiaoTong list?

It was highlighted by our opposition leader in his blog, that no Malaysian university is on the Shanghai JiaoTong's new list of top 500 universities in the world (Cambridge is #4!!!). However, unlike our respected Lim Kit Siang, I disagree with some points in his blog. I know that some of my readers may also disagree with me, so, feel free to comment.

I want to highlight to the DAP that, instead of just pulling the rankings out of the hat and politicising it as an example of the failure in our education system, please do a bit more research. Before I go into my elaborations, I would like to point out my background. This is so that readers can take into account my personal bias. However, the reader should also realise that I have more right to comment on this than most people do.

I have had the privilege of taking classes and exams at both a local university and here. On top of that, I have also been on the other side of the fence (i.e. involved in teaching) at both places. This gives me the advantage of not only being a student, but also seeing the things behind the scenes that most people don't. So, my comments will be based on my experiences back home and over here.

So, here goes:

This ranking is no indicator of the quality of teaching.

This is an issue that I like to highlight to all my undergraduate friends here as a lot of them tell me they chose Cambridge because it's a Top university according to rankings. Then, I point out to them that the criteria are based on research and not teaching (this is true for all major league rankings). So, they picked a good research university but they are not doing research here. Usually, they just keep quiet after that.

The point that I'm trying to make is that, from my experience, there are pros and cons at both my local uni and here when it comes to teaching. Nobody is perfect. I'm not spouting this grandiosely. I do have very specific examples that I can see would benefit my local uni back home and I also see examples of things from back home that would benefit my uni here. However, going into the details would take many blogs.

This ranking is no indicator of the quality of graduates.
Some people say that our local undergrads are of bad quality. That is something that I can never agree with, seeing that I graduated from a local uni. Furthermore, from my teaching experience, I have found the same number of idiots wandering the hallowed halls here as compared to those back home. I've already blogged about some of the idiots here who want to make me vomit blood before. The point is that there are bad apples everywhere and there are good ones too.

Using unemployment statistics to say that our local undergraduates are of low quality is also flawed. You can very well use the same statistics to say that our local economy isn't performing so well. Rising crime rates are also an indicator of a badly performing economy as more and more people are pushed to desperation. So, I'm not so sure that I can accept this as valid without further evidence. I'm more inclined to think of it as a problem with supply and demand.

LKS is asking the wrong Minister for an explanation.
Since these rankings are based on research, the only conclusion that we can draw is that our local universities are not producing quality research. I can accept this conclusion because there is evidence to back it up. Therefore, I find it weird that our opposition is asking the Higher Education Minister to explain the problems. LKS is barking at the wrong tree. Research funding is disbursed by the Science and Technology Minsitry.

This is my clearest indication that the opposition is merely politicising the issue. If they were truly interested in fixing the problem, they should at least ask the right questions to the right person. They are trying to hammer our Higher Education Minister even though he seems to be trying to overhaul our education system. I don't know why this is happening as I am not a political scientist.

So, my conclusion is that the DAP are just trying to get political mileage and be seen as trying to do something even though they're not doing it right. I'm very sad with this. Please at least act like a competent opposition. Please send out the right message to the people. Stick to what the evidence shows and act on facts.


koln_auhc said...

Politics aside, I still think that most people do not grill the rankings thoroughly. The indicators used to gauge the rankings are more likely to affect [b]post-grad students[/b], IMO, instead of undergraduates.

(As you said, based on research, not teaching)

I feel that the reliability of the ranking depends on how far you want to generalise it. If you ignore the methodology, then you're gonna get a flawed or unreliable ranking.

Same goes to local or foreign graduates. If you start to generalise the indicators, you get a useless inference.

I also think that the teaching quality depends on the personal experience of the student. Some people like big tutorials/classes others vice-versa. (I know that other factors affect it such as facilities,course structure and lecturers but I feel that it all depends on how the student sees it. Compared to post grad, undergrad studies do not feature stuffs such as producing research papers, conferences, thesis.)

I think that DAP should just write a new education paper and introduce it to everybody. That's what a quality opposition should work like, not barking.

Hehe, why not you put the links on the 'vomiting incidents'.

Shawn Tan said...

1) Yep, rankings are flawed. The fact that they used Nature & Science only, is biased! The best E&E research goes into IEEE!

2) Yea, the DAP should put together a small working group/committee to come up with some suggestions on how to overhaul our education, working within the budget of the current RM..

3) Search around my blog archives..

koln_auhc said...

I read those posts before. New readers might just go:" Ha?"