Pawns in the ranking game

Emeritus Professor Tan Sri Dato' Dzulkifli Abdul Razak
Opinion - New Straits Times
March 16, 2020



EACH time the outcome of the ranking ‘game’ is announced, it raises more questions than answers. The same can be said of the most recent, as reported by NST last week.

Headlined “Six local varsities among 50 in world subject ranking”, it listed three universities each from the public and private sectors.

The latter practically dominate in the hospitality and leisure discipline, with one other from the public sector being a new entrant in the class.

The best private university acclaimed by the same outfit that did the ranking is not listed among the six.

The remaining two public universities are Universiti Malaya, and the International Islamic University Malaysia (IIUM).

The former, being a research university, has been on this list for a long time, and is listed in three subject areas at position 31 in Library and Information Management, 38 in Development Studies, and 46 in Electric and Electronic Engineering.

The other two slide by seven and 11 places respectively.

That said, no other Malaysian research university seems to have made it this time.

This is baffling. The nature of this ranking is such that the outcomes can be erratic depending on lesser understood practices. IIUM is a case in point this time.

For starters, the university does not subscribe to the idea and practices of ranking per se, especially commercially-driven ones.

The raison d’etre is to collaborate, and not commercially compete because it goes against the philosophy of the university. Ranking tends to distort what education should be.

In fact, most universities are rooted in this ideal until they succumb to market pressure to compete as education is reduced to a tradeable commodity as a revenue stream (read, internationalisation).

Other reasons for this have been articulated often and have proven credible over time.

This time it hits the nail on the head. How so?

In the case of IIUM, the non-participation is evident when the university refrained from submitting a‎ny data or information required by the ranking oufit for the said year.

This is the official stance of the university. As reported in the NST (March 11), IIUM is ‎committed to nurturing holistic education and excellence without subjecting it to any ranking exercise.

At the faculty level, this translates into teaching and learning activities, responsible research and publication, as well as community engagement and consultancy in embracing the scope of holistic education with “soul”, accounted for by the thrusts of Falsafah Pendidikan Kebang-saan.

The criteria used in the ranking are not in sync with IIUM requirements. In many ways, the impact can only be oblique to the mission of IIUM in general, and the faculty (kulliyyah) in particular.

To say otherwise is to deny the holistic nature of education that IIUM is advocating.

In addition, institutional culture among IIUM academics, administrators and students is clear in advocating their roles to embrace the intellectual, spiritual, educational, and social functions of the university.

They are motivated to realise the higher purpose of the university in the search for solutions towards the betterment of humanity.

In this sense, what is the need for “ranking” other than for the benefits reaped by the ranking outfit, commercially?

The universities become mere pawns in a ‘game’ to pull wool over the eyes of the prospective students, now dubbed ‘customers’.

To this extent, the ranking’s ethical reliability is called into question; IIUM would like to distance itself from it

Indeed, this is the crux of the issue.


The writer, an NST columnist for more than 20 years, is International Islamic University Malaysia rector