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A decades-old sad story - Kee Thuan Chye

JU LY 27, 201 3

The intake of students into Malaysian public universities is a sad, sad story. A story that has been around for decades. A story that doesnt want to end. Since the establishment of the quota system for Bumiputera students in 1973, nonBumiputera ones have had to take part in what is virtually a lottery when they apply for places. They may not get admitted, or they may not get the course of study they applied for even though they have the best results. When the system was introduced, 55 per cent of places were reserved for Bumiputeras, although apart from Universiti Malaya and Universiti Sains Malaysia, other universities reportedly admitted more Bumiputeras than was specified in the quota. Non-Bumiputera families that couldnt tolerate the unfairness of the system decided to emigrate with the chief aim of securing higher education for the young. New waves of emigration have since followed, resulting in a massive brain drain that is highly disadvantageous to the countrys development. Those who stayed gave up on public universities as they did not want to put up with uncertainty over their childrens future. They resolved to work harder to earn money to send their children overseas. This caused a huge flow of currency outflow. So to stem it and also to make Malaysia a future net exporter of tertiary education, the Government instituted the Private Higher Educational Institutions Act in 1996 that led to the sprouting of private colleges and universities locally. By the end of 1999, according to Government figures, about 203,000 students had enrolled in private institutions, compared to about 167,500 in public universities. This showed the high demand among Malaysians for higher education. Before private colleges and universities were set up in Malaysia, many bright nonBumiputera students could not pursue higher education because their parents could not afford to send them overseas. They were deprived of the opportunity to better themselves and improve their lot in life. I remember arguing with a Chinese multi-millionaire businessman who was then proMahathir Mohamad and pro-BN (he has since changed his stance) because he didnt seem

to acknowledge the unfairness of the system and the plight of the poor non-Bumiputeras. What he said still rings in my head, No worries, the Chinese can always go to KTAR. He was referring to Kolej Tunku Abdul Rahman which at the time was not a university college (it was established in 1969 and became a university college only in May 2013), and its graduates were awarded only diplomas. That remark was nauseating coming from a multi-millionaire. Today, non-Bumiputera students still depend on being admitted to public universities to obtain higher education. Many of them come from poor families that cannot afford to send them even to local private institutions. In 2002, the Government replaced the quota system with a merit-based one, but even under this, studies have shown that the Bumiputera intake since has been at least around 60 per cent. In 2004, 128 non-Bumiputera students did not get into Medicine, which was their first choice, although they had obtained the highest score of 5As in the STPM (Sijil Tinggi Persekolahan Malaysia) examination. The Governments shocking response to this was that they were not good enough. All of them were eventually accepted by private institutions, but some did not pursue Medicine because they did not have sufficient financial support. This year, the sad old story is re-told. The intake of Chinese students has sunk to 19 per cent. And it has been far worse for the Indians, with only 4 per cent admitted. Shockingly, some non-Bumiputera students with the perfect CGPA (cumulative grade point averages) of 4.0 were not given places at all. And some who got in were not given courses of their choice. After 40 years, we are still hearing this old story. What is happening to Malaysia? MCA Youth chief Wee Ka Siong has now come out to say he is tired of facing the same issue every year. He even said things had got worse after the merit-based system was introduced. It is called merit system in name, but it is actually a quota system, in fact more quota than quota, he said. He also pointed out that the intake of Chinese students for eight major courses, like Medicine, Dentistry, Law, Chemical Engineering, had been declining in recent years. From 26.2 per cent in 2011, it dropped to 25.3 per cent in 2012 and 20.7 per cent this year, he said. On the other hand, the intake of Bumiputera students for these eight courses this year went up to 70.2 per cent.

He gave the example of Chinese students with CGPA 4.0 and 9.8 co-curriculum marks that applied for Medicine but were offered Agriculture Science instead. Well, Wee is one to talk about this issue now. When he was deputy education minister from 2008 till the last general election, did he do anything to stop the slide? Did he speak up against the system then? Or did he quietly collude with the MCAs partners in the ruling Barisan Nasional (BN), especially big brother Umno, to maintain the system? It therefore looks like the Chinese did the right thing in rejecting the MCA at the last general election, causing it to fall from grace by winning only seven parliamentary seats and having to stick to its threat of not taking up government positions for the poor performance. Now at least it has some guts to say something about this issue when in the past it would keep quiet. Now it is the MICs P Kamalanathan who is in Wees former position, and he is feeling the heat even from his own party. Instead of coming clean in the face of his communitys wrath over the low admission for Indians and high-scoring students not getting their course of choice, he said the problem could have been caused by some students wrongly filling in their university application forms. Wee rightly dismissed it as a silly explanation. MIC treasurer Jaspal Singh was even tougher: Sadly, even Kamalanathan is a part of this deceitful trickery (he) would do well to remember that he is there as the representative of MIC and the Indian community, not to cover up for the Education Ministry. Meanwhile, a few questions remain. Did Malay students with CGPA of 4.0 fail to get into courses of their choice? Did any of them fail to get a place at all? When we talk about a merit-based system, should it still be restricted to so many per cent for Bumiputeras and the rest for non-Bumiputeras? If so, how does that fit the meaning of merit? In 1984, I wrote a play called 1984 Here and Now in which a character, a Prole (meaning of minority race), says this: Like our Prole party lah. Weak like anyting. Everyting Big Broder say, OK. Like balls shaking in der pants, man. And now, quarrelling some more, der leaders. Wan more power, wan top post. Firs, dey should be more strong to bring our problem to Big Broder. No shame la, dese people. Meanwile, our people suffer. Our chiren carn get place in university. Every year, only so many people can go in. Not fair la. I wrote it with the hope that not long after that, the university intake issue would be resolved. Today, nearly 30 years later, my hopes have not been fulfilled. The situation has actually become worse. And sadder. So much for 1Malaysia.

* Kee Thuan Chye is the author of the bestselling books No More Bullshit, Please, Were All Malaysians and Ask for No Bullshit, Get Some More!

At last, the cat is out of the bag meritocracystudent intake system into public universities more quota than quota
At last, the cat is out of the bag that the university meritocracy student intake system which replaced the ethnic quota system for entry into the public universities in 2002 is more quota than quota. According to the MCA Youth leader, Datuk Dr. Wee Ka Siong, the intake of Chinese students for eight major courses in public universities medical, dentistry, pharmacy, electronics and electrical engineering, chemical engineering, law and accounting has been declining in recent years from 26.2% in 2001 to 25.3% in 2001 and 20.7 per cent this year. I commend Wee for finally making the public admission that the so-called merit system which replaced the quota system in 2002 was an even worse form of quota system in reality, resulting in the dropping of Chinese students to 19 per cent from more than 30 per cent in the early years, and the general drop in non-Malay students in the eight critical courses in public universities. In May 2002, I had sent an urgent email to all Cabinet Ministers asking them to rectify the injustice of the so-called merit-based university selection system, as the formula used to match the matriculation results and STPM grades was unprofessional, unfair and gives meritocracy a bad name as it is without any professional merit, like comparing an apple with an orange. I had argued at the time that it was quite absurd to compare the results of the STPM and matriculation courses as they are completely different systems, with different kind of evaluation procedures.

This is what I said in 2002: The STPM is a well-tested, open and standardized system with external moderation and affiliated with the Cambridge Local Examinations Syndicate, while American-based matriculation system is a totally different creature altogether, with evaluations based not just on the final examination but on attendance, assignment, presentation and with lecturers having a greater say in determining the grades in the 22 matriculation centers. Musa Mohamad (the then Education Minister) has himself confirmed that the matriculation marking is based on coursework (30%) and examination (70%). I had in my urgent email to Cabinet Ministers eleven years ago urged them to ensure that the meritocracy system adopted for university selection is transparent and professional a race-blind system founded on a level academic playing field based purely on examination results to ensure academic excellence and ameliorated by socio-economic considerations to take account of the more disadvantaged groups to ensure social justice. After three Prime Ministers, four MCA Presidents, 12 MCA Ministers together with a MCA Deputy Minister in the Higher Education Ministry for five years from 2008 2013, Malaysians are now told by the former MCA Deputy Education Minister that the so-called merit system for student intake into the public universities introduced in 2002 had in fact wrought greater injustices and is a worse formula than the 628 quota system of 55:45 for bumiputra and non-bumiputra students in force from 1979 to 2002. The questions that immediately come to mind is why the these facts and figures were denied to the Malaysian public in the past decade despite repeated demands for them, both inside and outside Parliament; why the 12 MCA Ministers and three times the number of MCA Deputy Ministers in the past decade had aided and abetted in their non-disclosure in the past 11 years, and how the UMNO/Barisan Nasional government and the Prime Minister, Datuk Seri Najib Razak propose to remedy this gross injustice if they are serious about 1Malaysia policy, raising Malaysias educational standards in the international sphere and enhancing Malaysia competitiveness to become a high-income economy. I had proposed a solution 11 years ago, the reform of pre-university admissions with a race-blind needs-based merit system with 75% places
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based on merit and 25% allotted to cater to the socio-economically backward students to people our public institutions of higher learning based on a common university entrance examination. I again commend this proposal to the Cabinet and the Prime Minister.

Wee: Varsity intake system 'more quota than quota'


Although the federal government had replaced the ethnic quota system with the merit system for university intake in 2002, the poor intake of Chinese students shows it was actually more quota than quota, said MCA Youth chief Wee Ka Siong. According to Wee, the intake of Chinese students for eight major courses in public universities has been declining in recent years. From 26.2 percent in 2011, it dropped to 25.3 percent in 2012 and 20.7 percent this year, said Wee. The eight major courses were Medical, Dentistry, Pharmacy, Electronic and Electrical Engineering, Chemical Engineering, Law and Accounting. However, the intake of bumiputera students for these eight courses this year reached 70.2 percent. Wee (right in photo) said he felt tired of facing the same issue every year. The former deputy education minister lamented that the issue has worsened although the government had abolished the ethnic quota system in 2002. It is called merit system in name, but it is actually a quota system, in fact more quota than quota. Change for the worse Wee, who is a graduate of a public university, said there was about one-third of Chinese students during his time but this has dropped to only about 19 percent this year. When the government replaced the quota system with the merit system, we did not raise any objection. However, the intake of Chinese students has since then dropped to 19 percent from more than 30 percent in the early years. We dont want a so-called merit system which is actually a quota system in reality. Many people even opined that if we had not changed the policy in 2002, the situation may not have been worse than it is now, he said. He urged the government to assign students who has obtained 3.0 CGPA to public universities. Failing which, he hoped the government can provide scholarships for the students to enter private universities, in particular those who has obtained a CGPA of 4.0. As a long-term solution, he urged the restructuring of the current intake system and standardising of the curriculum, examination and accreditation system of STPM and university matriculation.