UM aims to be among world’s top 100 universities by 2020

BY RAM ANAND

KUALA LUMPUR, March 30 ― Now inside Asia’s best 100 universities according to Times Higher Education (THE), Universiti Malaya is looking to enter the top 100 of the QS World University Rankings in coming years.

“In the next two to three years, we should be in the top 100. We have to be ambitious,” UM vice-chancellor Tan Sri Professor Dr Mohd Amin Jalaluddin told Malay Mail Online in an interview recently.

In its inaugural entry into THE’s ranking of best Asian universities this year, UM was ranked 59th and became the only local institution of higher learning in the top 100.

Its placing in the QS World University Rankings has also risen steadily over the past three years, climbing from 167th in 2013 to 133rd in 2016, breaking the top 150 barrier.

UM’s attempts to enter the elite band of universities worldwide invite comparisons with Singapore universities; the Lion City’s oldest institution, National University of Singapore (NUS) is consistently ranked the best in Asia and among the top 20 universities in the world.

Calling it UM’s “twin”, Amin credited NUS’s large population of foreign academic staff with giving the university a global outlook, and hopes to increase global participation among both UM’s staff and students.

“Ninety per cent of academic staff at NUS are expatriates; they can pay. But we (UM) have an obligation (to local talent),” he said.

Presently, 21 per cent of UM’s academics are foreign.

Amin said the aim is to bring this to 30 per cent or more in three years’ time. The same target has also been set for international students, who currently make up 22 per cent of UM’s intake.

“We need the mixture. We need the integration. But we also have an obligation for the local Malaysians to study here,” he added.

For Amin, the most important factor in determining UM’s future is how they produce graduates who are “global citizens” with an education and abilities that are applicable anywhere in the world.

UM is also looking to give Malaysian students international exposure through outbound programmes with universities in other countries.

“We are preparing global citizens, and a workforce for a global environment,” he said.

Despite the ambitions for the rankings, Amin stressed that “internationalising” UM’s programmes, imparting greater international exposure, and ensuring the high quality of incoming students would stay the main focus of the university.

An aerial view of the Universiti Malaya campus in Kuala Lumpur.

“When we do all this, the ranking will naturally reflect that,” he said.

Research was one of the areas in which the university has heavily focused to improve its international standing.

While the focus remains, Amin said that the emphasis now is on quality over the quantity of research.

He also said there must be an increase in postgraduate students in order to support the research goals.

“Right now, our postgraduate to undergraduate student ratio is 1:1. As a research university, by 2025 we hope to achieve a ratio of 2:1 for postgraduate students,” he said.

“As a research university, we need to move more into postgraduate students,” he added.

Amin also said it is vital for UM to stay the flag-bearer for higher education in Malaysia, being the oldest university in the country.

“Malaysia should become a regional education hub, and UM being the oldest university in Malaysia, should take the lead and become a role model for other universities,” he said.

He said, however, Malaysia needed more universities to join UM firmly in the top tiers globally.

“Ideally, by 2020, according to the national education plan, we should have two universities in the top 100,” he said.