READING about local varsities not making the top 100 in The Times Higher Education (THE) Asia University Rankings 2014 bothered me a lot this year.

This is because as of June 2014, (when the THE ranking made the news) I have been a postgraduate student of University of Malaya (UM) for two full semesters.

The quality of the education I have received so far makes me wish that more people were aware of this fantastic postgraduate programme.

In the past six months, I have had four lecturers teach me about Development Studies.

In a nutshell, about what makes a country develop the way it does and why some do it better than others and, is “better” necessarilybetterbecause really, who is it that determines what that “better” is. (We all know what works for one country may not always work for another).

In my first semester at UM, my coursemates and I had a lecturer, who would use current events as random as the 2013 riot in Little India in Singapore and link it to our lessons.

He would make us view the event from alternative perspectives, showing us that a riot revealed a lot more than mere dissatisfaction of the people involved.

Discussions were always encouraged and he had a way of making his students’ comments’ seem significant to the lesson.

It was a lively class with several foreign students and the lecturer would always ask them of their viewpoints so that we could compare and contrast it with the Malaysian way of things.

And I must point out that it wasn’t always the foreign way that was necessarily deemed to be better. As students, we were definitely fostered to think critically.

All four lecturers demanded a certain standard of work from us, and one or two were quite exacting in their requirements.

They had empathy and would give us extra time when we needed it for our assignments (because they understood that the majority of the students had full time jobs) but nevertheless, they expected quality work.

We moaned and groaned but many of us put our shoulder to the wheel and worked hard. Of course, some students did not give a hoot, but quite a number of the students wanted to do well and we had an academic staff that fully supported us in our quest.

They were not perfect, our profs, but they were very far from bad. They were dedicated to the programme and would often speak about continuous improvement, so that the department would produce students who would hold their own anywhere in the world.

As a result of the past six months of university, I have developed a better appreciation of how my country and the rest of the world works (and doesn’t work) and am itching to learn more.

I read and listen now with a more critical mind and apply some of the broader concepts of the theories I have learned at my job.

I have not stopped talking about how good the Masters’ in Development Studies at UM is (my friends are sick and/or envious of me).

I can’t wait for next semester and am constantly on the look-out for a good research topic for my thesis — there are so many things I want to write about.

My coursemates and I sometimes wish we could afford to study this programme full time so that we can take full advantage of the visiting speakers and work as research assistants with some of our professors.

It must frustrating for those educators who really care about their work and their students’ success when rankings such as the THE Asia University Rankings 2014 get highlighted.

The truth of the matter is there are some really good quality programmes in our local universities, with committed teachers and interested students. They are truly contributing to a better Malaysia.

Education Minister II Datuk Seri Idris Jusoh was quoted in the media as saying that emphasis should be placed on the entire learning process and not on rankings alone.

He is right, of course, but rankings generally reflect some truth. We may have pockets of greatness in our local varsities but as a nation, we need to go beyond pockets and get everyone on the bandwagon to quality education.

Nisha Sabanayagam
Nisha Sabanayagam

*Nisha Sabanayagam is a former journalist.

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