UMS for RU

When I took my Competence Level Assessment V (PTK5) at the end of 2010, one of the assignments was on “Fulfilling Universiti Malaysia Sabah’s Aspiration of Attaining Research University (RU) Status”. Since this is a small-scale project paper and not those research articles that I normally wrote, the content was purely descriptive. For instance, the assignment first evaluated the criteria outlined in the Malaysian Research Assessment Instrument (MyRA), and then discussed the overall performance of UMS in this self-assessment exercise. As usual, SWOT analysis was performed which generated a long list of recommended strategies.

What went missing in the above project paper was a benchmarking exercise in which the research performance of UMS is compared against the leaders. It is indisputable that UM, USM, UKM and UPM are the top 4 universities in Malaysia. To conduct a comparative analysis, I follow the recent trend to define research quality in terms of publications in journals indexed by Thomson ISI/WoS.

The analysis proceeds as follows:

  • Access Web of Knowledge via institutional login (click here);
  • Search “Univ Malaysia Sabah” in Address;
  • Set Timespan = All Years;
  • Set Databases = SCI-Expanded, SSCI (since most universities are interested in those journals with impact factors).

The process is repeated for “Univ Malaya”, “Univ Sains Malaysia”, “Univ Kebangsaan Malaysia”, “Univ Putra Malaysia”. The results are summarized in the attached table and figure (for raw data, click here). It is worth highlighting that those numbers represent the lower bound as there could be missing data. For instance, some researchers might report their affiliations as “Malaysian University of Sabah” (instead of “Universiti Malaysia Sabah) or “National University of Malaysia” (in place of “Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia”).

The statistics clearly show that the research output for the top four universities has improved significantly in the last 3 years of the sample period. Notably, UM and USM were able to break the ‘resistance level’ of 1000 in 2009-2011. Even though no formal analysis is conducted, I have no doubt that the financial incentive introduced by these RUs is a key determinant (click here, here, here). Drawing from the literature, Heywood et al. (2011) exploit a unique setting at The Southwestern University of Finance and Economics (SWUFE) where the piece rate for peer-reviewed articles increases five-fold. They report a significant 50% increase in research productivity associated with the piece rate increase. However, the scheme appears to raise the productivity of those who were already research active but does not motivate the research inactive to publish.

Coming back to UMS, the university’s total publications over the past 14 years are less than the annual productivity of these RUs. If UMS were to introduce the same reward structure, it would require a huge financial allocation. For instance, a simple calculation for UM shows that the university spent about RM3 million for publication incentive (assuming average piece rate of RM3000 and annual productivity of 1000 articles). Given the financial constraint, what UMS needs to do is to identify the threshold point above which the scheme will provide the desired incentive effect (for example of threshold analysis, see Hansen, 2000). I am sure that this threshold level won’t be RM100 per article (coming soon)!