Malaysian universities have crashed out of the top-200 in global rankings, jeopardising the nation's attempts to lure foreign students, Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi said.
Malaysia's no-show in this year's World University Rankings has been branded a "national shame" by the opposition which said it showed the country was becoming less competitive.
"Three years ago, we had Universiti Sains Malaysia among the first 100 and another two universities in the top 200. Now, none of the Malaysian universities are in the top 200," Abdullah said, according to the state news agency Bernama.
"People will ask -- if (foreign) students come to Malaysia, is it because it is cheap? If it is cheap, we must still have quality. We cannot accept cheap education but of low quality," he said.
Parlimentary opposition leader Lim Kit Siang rejected other ministers' explanations that the poor results on the university rankings were due to the use of new methods to rate institutions.
He said that while the National University of Singapore had dropped from 19th to 33rd spot, Universiti Malaya had plummeted 54 places to 246th.
"Why is this so when both universities had started off on almost the same footing half-a-century ago?" he said this week, referring to Malaysia's independence from British colonial rule.