Saturday, March 22, 2008

Prof Dato Dr Sharifah Hapsah Shahabudin Vice Chancellor Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia - Ranking Is Here To Stay

New Sunday Times November 11, 2007

RANKING IS HERE TO STAY Dr Sharifah Hapsah Shahabudin Vice Chancellor Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia I was in Pattaya when the telephone incessantly rang with reporters wanting my comments on the academic reputation survey (ARES) results released on 2 November 2007 by Higher Education Minister Datuk Mustapa Mohamed. Not having the details at hand I could only manage to welcome the fact that we now have our own instrument for rating our universities. A labour of love has finally come to fruition, imperfect may be, but a step in the right direction for Malaysia. The rating instrument was conceived after YAB Prime Minister in his 2005 budget speech announced that Higher Education Institutions (HEIs) will be ranked to increase their competitiveness. As Director of the Quality Assurance Division (QAD) of the Ministry of Higher Education then, I convened a group of academics headed by Professor Dr Che Husna Azahari to identify aspects or domains in higher education that are critical for quality assurance and develop indicators for measuring them. The group engaged multiple stakeholders (government, public and private HEIs, professional bodies, employers, professors, students) from the start, thus injecting relevance into the system. It also consulted benchmark partners consisting of reputable institutions in ASEAN, Asia and Australia. The instrument has multiple themes which give consideration to important issues such as access, equity, quality, efficiency, sustainability, nation building and values. The measures focus on output, outcomes, results and impact rather than only inputs. They inject fairness by comparing similar institutions divided broadly into research, comprehensive and discipline specific universities. The instrument moved to the National Accreditation Board (LAN) when I was appointed the Chief Executive Officer and it will now be managed by the Malaysian Qualifications Agency (MQA). The qualitative academic reputation survey (ARES) measures the perception of various stakeholders (employers, academics, professional bodies) about the performance of public universities in the nine domains. The six point Likert scale measures quality of research, academic resources, academic faculty’s reputation, students’ university of choice, quality of academic programme, quality of postgraduate experience, research contribution to society, preparation of tomorrow’s leaders and quality of graduates. It also measures the overall perception of quality.
New Sunday Times November 11, 2007
Perception, particularly of peers and employers or recruiters of graduates, is an important aspect of quality measurement. In fact it forms fifty percent of the Times Higher Education Supplement (THES) ranking methodology. The intuitive elements are usually based on some experience or knowledge of the institutions being evaluated. However perception is always combined with quantitative measurements. In the quantitative SETARA (which stands for Rating System for Malaysian Higher Education), actual data is collected and analysed in six areas. A score of one to five is allotted for each indicator based on predetermined benchmarked standards for the following areas which can be reported individually: academic faculty’s reputation, students’ university of choice, quality of research, quality of academic programme, resources and management. When SETARA is released later it will be possible to match the reality with perception. It will also be possible to compare the performance of Malaysian HEIs with the benchmark partners (for example, in 2005 comparable data was obtained from the National University of Singapore, University of Melbourne, Indian Institute of Technology, Mahidol University and University of Technology Sydney). In reporting ARES, it is unfortunate that only the overall ranking was highlighted. The unidimensional information is not very helpful in helping individuals make choices, institutions to self improve, employers to recruit and government to make policies. An overall position does not indicate the relative strengths and weaknesses of an institution. A good rating system which provides accurate and transparent information can help prospective students for example to choose institutions and programmes of study based on their own priorities. For instance, students who are sports inclined would give higher priority to domains dealing with physical facilities, in addition to discipline ratings. For Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia, knowledge of the details of each domain would help us in self improvement, benchmarking, goal setting, strategic planning and forming strategic partnership. Generally the results should also encourage a healthy debate on issues and challenges that are critical in higher education. Whilst it is good to have a rating system of our own we must always keep sight of international developments. Many countries now have some kind of rating/ranking system. In countries such as The Netherlands, Thailand, New Zealand, Korea, Malaysia, Pakistan, India, Argentina, Tunisia, Nigeria, and Kazakhstan, ranking is the responsibility of a government or accreditation agency. Professional associations or universities are rankers in countries such as China, Slovakia, Ukraine, Russia, Australia, Germany, Romania, Kazakhstan, Taiwan and Japan. The media (newspapers, magazines) play prominent roles in the United Kingdom, Germany, the United States, Canada, Italy, Germany, Poland, Romania, China, Hong Kong, Ukraine and Japan.
New Sunday Times November 11, 2007
The Times Higher Education Supplement (THES) in the UK and China Shanghai Jiatong have a strong international dimension. Whilst emphasis should be given to the local instrument, where possible comparisons should be made with instruments that have international dimensions. This would give an indication of where we stand in global higher education and spur us to adopt good practices for self improvement. The announcement of the results publicly is a very welcome change for inducing a culture of accountability, transparency, quality and competition. This is exemplified by the voluntary submission of the institutions to the rating exercise. We should accept the results and strive for improvement. The results will vary from year to year because improvements, some of which involving very fundamental reforms, may take time to reveal themselves. Further, the ranking methodology itself, just like international instruments such as THES, is still in its infancy and is subject to continuous improvement and development. Dato Mustapa has initiated many changes to make higher education serve the needs of knowledge generation, wealth creation and nation building in more innovative ways. The Higher Education Strategic Plan launched by the Prime Minister on 27 August is the blue print for the strategies and actions to be taken to fully integrate Malaysia in the knowledge and innovation economy. As I fly home from an international destination such as Pattaya, I’m happy to be reminded that the rating of public institutions and the implementation of the qualifications framework within a broad quality assurance formulation are attempts to benchmark nationally and internationally. Rating and ranking are here to stay. We must learn how to use them to the maximum advantage for the sake of higher education and the country.

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