Faculty of Engineering, University of Malaya (UM) has a leaping performance in recent years and is ranked No. 35 in 2017 QS World University ranking, achieving greater excellence than many famous universities in UK and United States of America. However, if current situation of the faculty persists, maintaining this ranking is challenging. As revealed by the Dean, the faculty currently does not receive any research funding and therefore cannot retain talent. More than half of the graduate students were lost within recent few months.
Current situation is difficult to maintain a high ranking
Last month, Universiti Malaya's engineering faculty was ranked the top 35 in the QS Global Rankings, far ahead of other local universities. A month later, Dean of the Faculty of Engineering took the initiative to meet the media, not to show off or to seek credit, but to explain the current difficulties faced by the faculty, hoping to draw attention from all sectors of the
Over the past few years, engineering@UM has performed excellently and was ranked 35th in the "engineering and technology" category of the 2017 QS World University Ranking, a huge improvement from the 213th position in 2013. This ranking is even higher than the Princeton University in US (37th), University of Sydney in Australia (41th) and Fudan University in China (47th). How did engineering@UM make it? The Dean, Professor Noor Azuan, revealed the government funding as the main reason behind this achievement.
Within the period from 2011 to 2016, engineering@UM received a grant of RM124 million to enable the faculty to promote high impact research. Prof. Noor Azuan pointed out that, during this period, the faculty has not only achieved the performance indicators set by the government and the University, but has even exceeded the expected target.
However, he cannot help but to point out: "Unfortunately, we currently do not have research funding. I have to confess that I am worried that if we do not do anything, we cannot retain this 35th ranking in the next few years.
Talking about the current situation, he revealed that engineering@UM has lost hundreds of graduate students within the recent few months. He stressed: "not ten or twenty, but over a hundred ... about 60%."
Hope to obtain 20 million each year for the next four years
Talent loss and lack of research funding has a great relationship, as the Deputy Dean of Research Professor Ramesh Singh said. When there is no research funding, there is no way we can run the research, and as a consequence, we cannot retain those talents who wish to undertake postgraduate study by research and who may be already qualified engineers.
Then there is the problem of maintaining equipment. The faculty has many engineering equipment and facilities that cost millions of ringgit and the academic staff rely heavily on these equipment to do research. "If we have no money to maintain these equipment, we have no way to carry out excellence research," Prof Noor Azuan said.
In another four to five years, these millions dollar equipment may have to be disposed due to lack of maintenance."
He did not deny that the purpose of him and his deputy Ramesh taking the initiative to accept the media visit is to attract outside attention in order to seek for the research funding from both the private and government sectors. If possible, he hoped that during the period from 2017 to 2020, the engineering@UM would receive RM20 million funding per year.
engineering@UM's goal is to become one of the top 20 engineering faculties in the world by 2020. He said: "If our plan is well-rounded; if we get the full support of the government and the private sectors, I am very confident that we can achieve the top 20 world ranking in 2020."
He did not brag, in fact in recent years, the number of publications and citations achieved by engineering@UM have significantly increased (please refer to the chart).
At present, engineering@UM has specified that each professor in the faculty has to publish five research papers per year; associate professor 4; senior lecturer 3; lecturer 2. He said that some academic staff may be unhappy with him for setting such high key performance indicators, but he thinks he is doing the right thing. From his point of view, to produce influential research outcomes, academic staff must be diligent in doing research.
Production of brick from oil palm waste, Intelligent/Super water purifier
Various researches for the benefit of society
In recent years, engineering@UM has a number of research projects that are not only influential in the academic community, but also bring benefits to the society and create business value.
Many years ago during a flood in Termeloh, the residents was deprived of clean water supply. engineering@UM has invented ultrafiltration (UF) water purification system to purify water
from the mountain, river and rain into drinkable water with the use of solar technology. This invention has since benefited long house residents in Sarawak.
Apart from this, there is a sample green house in the university campus which is made of oil palm waste. This house is both environmentally friendly and low cost, and signifies one of the masterpieces produced by the faculty.
Research outcome for commercial production
The outcome of engineering@UM 's research also includes prosthetic limbs, as well as 'Eco- Greenery outdoor lighting system' which is used to stop the spread of dengue. Talking about the prosthesis, the corresponding research outcome has been put into commercial production, and the research has gained quite an extensive international attention.
In academic-industry collaboration, Professor Noor Azuan said that engineering@UM has put a lot of efforts in fostering a good relationship and collaborating with the industry, and the result is quite impressive. At the end of last year, engineering@UM 's has established an engineering@UM Industrial Innovation Centre (eUM-IIC) in the campus. Participating enterprises include Japan Daikin (air conditioning), Iceland Ossur (orthopaedic), Germany Rohde & Schwarz (wireless communications), China Huawei & Motorola (wireless technology) and Proton (automotive).
The above enterprises bring technology and resources into UM in order to carry out research and development hand in hand with the faculty for mutual benefit. Professor Ramesh said, through this industry and academia cooperation, lecturers and students can get exposed to actual industrial operation to solve real world problem, rather than trapped in the ivory tower.
May organize joint programmes with Chinese universities
On the other hand, Prof Noor Azuan went to China a few weeks ago and has signed a letter of intent with 40 China Universities and 6 secondary schools there. He said that these China universities are interested in co-organizing joint programmes with engineering@UM, while engineering@UM plans to attract more international students and hoping these students could bring different spirits and sparks into the campus.
At present, the international students account for 10% of the total number of undergraduates (or bachelor students) and 40% of postgraduate students. The universities and secondary schools that have signed the letter of intent with engineering@UM not long ago include Polytechnic College of Hebei University of Science and Technology, Xi'an University of Technology, Xi'an University of Science and Technology, Xi'an Technological University, Hengshui City High School, Shijiazhuang (I) and Shijiazhuang (II) Secondary Institutions.
China Universities have sufficient funding
Dean sighs with deep feeling
In the earlier visit to China, Professor Noor Azuan said that the Vice Chancellor of China Universities indicated that university funding is not an issue, because the university receives 100% funding from the Chinese government. Compared to the situation faced by the engineering@UM, Professor Noor Azuan is not without deep feeling.
In recent years, from time-to-time, Ministry of Higher Education speaks about self-reliance to public universities, urging University not rely too much on government funding. In this regard, Professor Noor Azuan is agreeable. He agreed that the faculty cannot rely entirely on government funding, but he believes that this changes requires time to adapt.
"In fact, our request is not much." He further explained that the engineering faculty is asking for RM20 million per year in funding, mainly to support and promote institutional research, instead of buying new equipment and providing pocket money to academic staff.
Government does not provide funding, Hoping for funding from private sector
From whom should engineering@UM ask for this 20 million funding? He said that if the Government is willing to give full support, he is certainly very happy, but the Government may also encourage the private sector to fund the academic community through the exemption of tax incentives.
He pointed out that in the past few years, engineering@UM has been working hard to open up financial resources. For example, university researchers have set up three or four spin-off companies, one of which is BioApps Limited. BioApps Limited currently generates an annual revenue of RM2 million. In addition, the faculty has also encouraged academic staff to apply for foreign research funding, of which the amount may not be much but still better than nothing.
In summary, he hoped that the situation of engineering@UM would raise the attention of the Cabinet. He believed that if the Government is willing to help, it would certainly alleviate the current predicament of the faculty.
He is confident that as long as engineering@UM gets 20 million ringgit research funding per year, jumping to the world's top 20 ranking is just around the corner.