Now, after years of neglect, we face the grim reality of the poor rankings of our universities, with the once prestigious Universiti Malaya dropping from an admirable 89 in 2004 to an embarrassing 192 in 2006. To reverse this decline, our Higher Education Minister Mustapa Mohamed has wooed hundreds of international students and foreign lecturers. This, he assures us, will improve Universiti Malaya’s position in the global university ranking list.
Although we encourage the influx of foreigners into the halls of our universities, this in itself will not transform our ivory towers into the repositories of knowledge that it ought to be. This is simply a quick-fix solution that merely masks the problem. Instead of implementing such cosmetic measures, it would be better if the minister concentrated on addressing the real issues at hand.
For a start, more funds should be allocated for research. The true worth of a university is measured in its capacity for creative and innovative solutions, not so much in the number of foreign nationals registered in its courses. And for a university to excel, it has to adopt and maintain a totally open and inquisitive culture that is not burdened by petty censorship, which is the virtue of the ignorant and the easily-offended. Intellectual confrontations and a lively exchange of ideas are the fuel that generates creativity and the pursuit of knowledge. These are the hallmarks of a great university, one that not only ranks highly amongst its peers, but brings immeasurable benefits to the society it serves.