Is it time to boycott university ratings?


Free Malaysia Today

Malaysian employers have joined the growing chorus of stakeholders questioning the usefulness of university rankings and ratings.

The Malaysian Employers Federation (MEF) highlighted that employers emphasise practical skills and abilities which university rankings may not capture.

The Federation of Malaysian Manufacturers (FMM) suggested that graduates lack practical experience and industry readiness.

For example, the 2025 QS World Rankings saw 22 out of 28 Malaysian universities drop in employer recognition.

In the overall rankings half of Malaysian universities declined or showed no improvement. Around 54% had scores too low to be reported.

One of Malaysia’s leading universities, Universiti Sains Malaysia saw its score rise from 52.6 to 52.7 but dropped nine places from 137 to 146 in the rankings.

Universiti Utara Malaysia had a higher score of 22.4 against 21.9 last year but fell sixteen places from 538 to 554 compared to last year.

The largest bumiputera university, Universiti Teknologi Mara, fell 32 places from 555 last year to 587 this year despite having almost the same score of 21.1 compared to 21.2 last time.

Universities appear to learn lessons from close engagement with QS. Around 57% of those that rose in the rankings were sponsors of the QS Asia Summit held in Malaysia last year.

Others with close engagement fare less well and almost half of universities with high QS Stars Ratings have QS World Ranking scores so low that they do not make it onto the list.

Free Malaysia Today

Overall 64% of Malaysian universities involved in the QS Stars ratings or QS World Rankings have scores which are too low to be recorded.

Commercial ratings and rankings are primarily designed as a market signal of quality and benchmarking.

They are not official or accredited standards but are marketing collaterals which are expensive and time consuming.

Often they become an end in themselves for marketing courses to students but increasing scepticism among stakeholders is eroding their value as market signals.

Academics are sceptical about ranking and rating methodology and more importantly how it undermines the mission of higher education in favour of targeting commercial indicators.

Employers are sceptical because the rankings and ratings do not measure what they want to see in industry-ready graduates which detracts from the soft-skills and workplace readiness that they value.

From this perspective students as consumers and parents as the people who pay, find it difficult to use the ratings and rankings as a clear guide when choosing the right university or course.

If a university’s ranking falls when its score rises or if a five-star university cannot even get onto the table, what does this say about the market signal?

If employers look for characteristics not measured in the ratings and rankings then what use are they in the labour market?

When a market signal loses its value there are reasons to abandon it and move to other ways of judging quality and value in the product it is trying to sell.

This is not unique for Malaysia, all 52 universities in South Korea withdrew from the QS rankings and many other leading global institutions have abandoned commercial ranking and rating agencies altogether.

QS is not alone. Other commercial ranking companies experience similar issues and some of the Indian institutes of technology and Chinese universities have called for methodology adjustments and withhold information for the Times Higher Education rankings.

The market is pushing Malaysian universities to follow suit but it may be necessary for the government to respond to the concerns of academics, employers, parents and students and call a stop on foreign commercial credentials for Malaysian universities. - FMT

The views expressed are those of the writer and do not necessarily reflect those of MMKtT.

Is it time to boycott university ratings?