NATHANIEL Tan’s article, “Universities need to focus on genuine quality, not obsess over rank” (TheStarOnline at https://bit.ly/2V35Lxn, May 7) was a welcome rush of oxygen to academics under misguided academic hierarchies. The writer highlighted some concerns about quality of research output from public universities. However, this is just the tip of the proverbial iceberg as far as the ranking problems are concerned. There are many more problems developing as a result of these meaningless pursuits of local universities.
University leaders and academic hierarchies are losing sight of the needs of the country and its people. And nowhere is this problem more apparent than in private universities.
Private institutions are attempting to leapfrog into the rankings game by cutting down on their meagre teaching resources and channelling all they have to the sort of meaningless research Tan has written about. While research and publications are supposedly an indication of intellectual capabilities developed within institutions, private institutions are simply forgoing the latter to hire retired and senior academics from elsewhere just to bring in big grants and to write papers.
There is no human capital development in such ventures. It is purely an output race. The fallout of such practices is also that they have to cut down on traditional teaching resources through retrenchments and resignations, and then plug the teaching gaps with part-time hires to enable this “writing” fraternity of professors whose only contribution is to add to the 50,000 publications to date that Tan mentioned in his article.
This has also led to a situation of overcrowded classes, full-time staff with lecturing hours that far exceed reasonable limits and poor quality of teaching and assessment such as online quizzes conducted with dodgy software, with high rates of cheating, etc.
Is the Malaysian Qualifications Agency (MQA) privy to the problems of all lecturers in such matters? Is the agency raising questions about the numbers in lecture halls and the hours of teaching?
Lecturers are warned that their jobs are on the line if the MQA is not satisfied with the institution, so how would the agency expect to detect these problems during their much-publicised visits to these institutions?
Another ranking-related problem that’s becoming more apparent in private institutions is lack of funding or attention to the development of Social Sciences and Humanities. Where resources are limited and quick results are necessary, university traditions have always favoured funding the sciences. While public universities have had time to develop some basic disciplines in Social Sciences and Humanities, the situation is pitiful in private universities where these are considered the joke of the institutions – all name and little substance.
Departments are set up but with little in the way of undergraduate and definitely very little postgraduate work being carried out. There is little funding, direction or
dynamism in such schools and faculties. One such institution relies on funding its culinary arts as the easiest option for rising in the rankings ladder, with little else by way of the Arts, Humanities or Social Sciences.
Universities need to develop a proper and balanced infrastructure and do important work that contributes to national, regional and international concerns before jumping into the rankings race. Unfortunately, with the rankings focus, private institutions have prioritised international report card games instead of building their capabilities and expertise in a grounded and sound manner under experienced and capable academic hierarchies. The long-term cost to the nation will be too high to bear.
PRIVATE UNIVERSITY INSTRUCTOR