Malaysiakini Letter

THES rankings questionable, UM a backwater

Scott South  |  Published:  |  Modified:

It appears to me that everyone in Malaysia is taking the Times Higher Education Supplement (THES) rankings of the top 200 universities in the world too seriously. As someone with an advanced degree in the study of the American higher education system, I find the THES rankings of US institutions, and the criteria used to rank them, highly questionable.

For example, it is bizarre to rank the University of California at San Francisco (UCSF)one notch above Johns Hopkins University. The former has nowhere near the prestige of the latter. Moreover, THES is comparing apples and oranges - UCSF is strictly a postgraduate medical school while Johns Hopkins is a comprehensive, full-fledged university that offers the complete range of degrees. Certainly, the American rankings of US universities, in US News and World Report, are completely different from the London Times report. There are many such discrepancies that I see in the THES rankings.

The THES report also ignores the large number of world-class US liberal arts (BA degree- granting) colleges such as Vassar, Swarthmore, Haverford, Oberlin and many others. These institutions are as prestigious as Yale or Harvard and are known by the elite around the world and that is why they are full of students from international royal families - even from Saudi Arabia.

I also find it odd that THES counts the number of foreign students at a university as an indication of quality. Frankly, some of the lowest-ranking institutions in the US enroll high numbers of foreign students. Miami Dade Community College, a two-year school with open admissions, draws about 5,000 foreign students. Obviously, the numbers or proportions of foreign students at a given institution have nothing to do with the quality of the institution except that they add a beneficial inter-cultural dimension to campus life.

Furthermore, the difficulty of admission at a given university is a factor THES has also excluded, a fact I find puzzling.

But having lived in Malaysia, I believe it is preposterous, I am sorry to say, to consider the Universiti Malaysa to be ranked anywhere near the top 200 in the world. The THES criteria are simply too unreliable and UM too much of a prison-walled backwater to be taken seriously outside Malaysia.

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