Universiti Malaya’s Vice Chancellor, Datuk Dr Abdul Rahim Hashim shares about UM’s success in the world and Asian university rankings.

Despite Universiti Malaya’s (UM) outstanding achievements to be ranked among the top universities in the world, the country’s oldest university refused to be complacent.

In a recent interview with HE Today, UM’s Vice Chancellor Datuk Dr Abdul Rahim Hashim said they still had to work hard in several aspects to improve themselves further.

Highlighting the need to improve on citations, the university would use of the feedback they received from the rankings to strategise according to where they are lacking.

“We believe that one of the solutions we could do is by having co-authorship with renowned researchers

“Other than that, we should also research on areas where the impact is high and this will encourage people to cite us more,” Abdul Rahim said.

He said universities typically focus more on the number of research papers before.

However, he noted that now it was more important to produce research papers that would bring more impactful outcomes to the university and society.

UM is currently ranked 114th on QS World University Rankings (QS WUR), 24th on QS Asian University Rankings, and 46th in Times Higher Education (THE) Asia University Rankings.

Below is the excerpt from the interview.

HE Today (HET): Congratulations on being at number 46 on Times Higher Education (THE) Asia University Rankings, number 114 on QS World University Rankings (QS WUR) and number 24 on QS Asian University Rankings, Datuk. Could you explain how did Universiti Malaya (UM) manage to achieve such achievements?
Datuk Dr Abdul Rahim (DDAR): Thank you so much. We are very humbled and proud indeed to be honoured by these rankings. These achievements are the collective efforts of all of UM’s staff and students. At UM, we try to make sure that all faculties, centres, and academies do their part in ensuring that each subject area is performing well. We focus our attention on the subject rankings, the feedbacks from the rankings help us improve on our weaknesses. I believe that when we work well in maintaining the quality of our subjects, this will automatically reflect positively on the overall quality of the university. If we neglect this, then the quality and rankings that we have right now are not sustainable.

HET: How exactly do you maintain the quality of the subjects?
DDAR: To be able to do this, we’ve got to understand the ranking and rating system. For QS, there are five broad subject areas and we are ranked in all five areas. We look at the scores of each subject, and then inform each faculty of their scores and tell them to work on improving the criteria that they are lacking in.

HET: Could you share what are the criteria involved in these rankings?
DDAR: Each ranking body evaluates differently and has different criteria. For QS WUR, the criteria that are evaluated are academic reputation, citations per faculty, employer reputation, faculty students, international faculty and also how many international students we have. Meanwhile, for QS WUR by Subject Ranking, it typically looks at four aspects, academic reputation, employer reputation, hi-index citations, and also citations per paper. The marks and feedback given allow us to target what we need to work on to be better. As for THE, they are more focused on the research papers we have produced.

HET: What is the significance of the university rankings like QS WUR and THE?
DDAR: Well, it basically acts as a proxy to show how well a university has performed. It may not be 100% comprehensive, but it gives everyone a general idea of the quality the university has to offer. This kind of information is very important to the stakeholders of a university, namely the students. Students and parents who want to enrol in UM must wonder where we are ranked among the 1000 plus higher institutions in the world. The higher we are ranked, the better we are reflected. This will attract people to come study and work with us, and we will also attract more international academic staff and students as well. Nowadays, since we got in the top 10% for science and engineering, we have more people coming to work and study with us. The rankings also help us secure funding for research, which will, in turn, help us fare better in terms of research and citations. Not only that, as I mentioned earlier, the rankings give us an insight into how we are doing and on what we can do to improve ourselves. Finally, being ranked will also help increase our country’s reputation in the eyes of the world.

HET: Based on the results of the rankings, could you share with us what are the ways you think you could improve as a university?
DDAR: Right now I would say that we need to work harder on citations. Based on the rankings, we have devised several solutions to fare better in citations. We believe that one of the solutions we could do is by having co-authorship with renowned researchers. Other than that, we should also research on areas where the impact is high and this will encourage people to cite us more. Before this, we may focus more on the number of research papers we produce, but the number of papers don’t matter if they don’t have any impact and nobody will cite your paper. So, now we have to ensure that the research area and quality of the research bring impactful outcome to us and the society. This is why the feedback of the rankings we get is so useful. It helps us to strategise accordingly.

HET: Would you say UM is under any pressure to maintain its rankings?
DDAR: Of course, the pressure is always there. For me, pressure and competition are very important because they help push you forward. Without them, you wouldn’t have the adrenaline to push you to become better. If you do things right and keep to your responsibilities as an academician, you won’t feel the pressure. Once you get into the momentum of things, it will become second nature to you.

HET: Thank you so much for taking time out of your busy schedule to talk to us. We wish that UM will prosper further and achieve many great things in the future.

DDAR: It was my pleasure. Thank you so much for having me.