Stop politicising the merit-based higher education system for bumiputra students which should be regarded as a national problem and one of the country’s greatest challenges in the era of globalisation and ICT

Media Statement
by Lim Kit Siang

(Petaling Jaya,  Saturday): Two weeks ago, after the UMNO Supreme Council meeting, the Prime Minister, Datuk Seri Dr. Mahathir Mohamad announced “shock tactics” including basing university admissions on meritocracy to shock Malay students into doing better.

He said: “If forced to, we will stop or reduce the intake of Malay students into university.  We will do it, and may be, for one year we might just base all admissions on meritocracy”.

However, there seems to be some back-pedalling in the past fortnigtht.

On Wednesday,  after briefing UMNO members on government plans to introduce university admission based on merit, Mahathir said gradual meritocracy will be introduced for university admission among Malay students to serve as a warning for them to study hard and achieve good results if they wish to pursue their education further.

He said although no changes would be made to the university quota system, admission requirements into some courses for Malay students would be tightened.

On Thursday,  the Education Minister, Tan Sri Musa Mohamad announced that a Cabinet Committee would be set up to draw up standard guidelines on the merit-based system to be followed by all public universities and university colleges.

He said that whatever method eventually implemented by next year would not cause a decrease in the number of bumiputra students at university nor would it affect the quota system.

Musa’s statement raised eyebrows and questions all round.  Is it possible to introduce a merit-based system for university admission for bumiputra students without affecting the quota system?

Is the government admitting that all these decades, university admission for bumiputra students had  not been  based on a merit system among the  bumiputra students, and that there  had been the  prevalent practice where less deserving bumiputra students had been given university places at the expense of academically better-qualified bumiputra students?

If so, what is the basis of such discrimination among bumiputra students - is it on the basis of social and educational needs or purely on connections and influence-peddling?

Is the government prepared to establish  an independent commission of inquiry to inquire into the abuses of the university quota system for bumiputra students, and whether these abuses are one of primary causes for the problem of poor bumiputra academic attainments and excellence?

UMNO leaders should stop politicising the merit-based higher education system for bumiputra students which should be regarded as a national problem and one of the country’s greatest challenges in the era of globalisation and information and communications technology.

As the problem of poor educational attainment of bumiputera university students is not a present-day problem, Mahathir’s sudden discovery of the issue raises the question as to whether it is motivated by genuine educational concerns or by the UMNO political agenda to clamp down on campus student activism which is increasingly alienated by high-handed government contempt for student idealism, self-respect and  rights.

Is the government prepared to admit that Malaysia is seriously  lagging behind other countries whether in Asia or in the world in the quality of our higher education system, that this  is the Achilles’ heel in the national efforts for Malaysia to take our rightful place in the international arena whether in terms of economic  competitiveness or as an IT power, and finally, the  urgent need to adopt radical measures to transform Malaysia into an international centre of academic excellence, not just in words but recognised by the international community.

If so, this is not an issue to be discussed and decided merely by UMNO leaders and members but by all Malaysians, involving all political parties as well as the entire Malaysian citizenry.

Is the government prepared to provide leadership for a nation-wide educational revolution  to raise the quality of our higher-education system, not only for bumiputra students but for all Malaysians, to ensure national survival and prosperity in the 21st century?


*Lim Kit Siang - DAP National Chairman