The release of 7,168 unfilled university places to eligible Chinese and Indian students would be the first positive and constructive action by Mahathir  in the past 18 months since the last  general election

Media Statement
by Lim Kit Siang

(Petaling Jaya, Tuesday): I welcome the report that the Prime Minister, Datuk Seri Dr. Mahathir Mohamad has said that 7,168 unfilled university places this year would be released and open to eligible Chinese and Indian students - which would be his first positive and constructive action in the past 18 months since the last general election.

It goes against the entire  national interests of preparing Malaysia to meet the challenges of globalisation, liberalisation and a K-economy, as well as inimical to the nation-building process of creating a  united Bangsa Malaysia, to leave the 7,168 university places approved by Parliament in 2001 budget fallow when all qualified bumiputra students who meet the minimum university entrance standards have been admitted while  there are over 33,000 STPM holders and 135,000 SPM students who have applied and failed to get university placing.

It would also make a complete mockery the Eighth Malaysia Plan (8MP), and Parliament which just approved the 8MP, which projects a 44% increase of degree-level enrolment at the tertiary level in the next five years from 201,271 in 2000 to 289,806 in 2005 when in the first year of the 8MP, there is actually a 8.7 per cent reduction in university student intake as compared to the previous year.

This raises the fundamental question right from the very start of the 8MP as to its seriousness and import when the 8MP   commitment to  “efforts to expand the absorptive capacity of public institutions of higher learning” and establishing four new universities in Malacca, Negri Sembilan, Pahang and Perlis to provide additional 20,000 places at the degree level by 2005 is  nullified by the government in leaving  7,168 university places unfilled.

DAP fully supports the bold decision by Mahathir to release the 7,168 unfilled university places to eligible Chinese and Indian students.  We have in fact been pressing for this decision every day in the past one week since the shocking revelation that the Education Ministry was leaving 7,168 university places unfilled when  all qualified bumiputra students have been admitted although there are over 33,000 STPM holders and 135,000 SPM students waiting outside the university gates for admission.

On Friday, I phoned the MIC President and Works Minister, Datuk Seri S. Samy Vellu, who was in Kota Kinabalu,  to ask him to raise in Cabinet the nation-wide outrage at such an unfair decision to the eligible Chinese and Indian students.

I did not phone up the MCA, Gerakan and SUPP Ministers as this is one case where the Transport Ministry parliamentary secretary, Donald Lim Siang Chai, is wrong when he said on Sunday that “smaller numbers mean less clout” in his call to Malaysian Chinese to have more children.

Samy Vellu is living example that although he is the only Indian Minister in the Cabinet, he seems to have more “clout” and could speak up more courageously against wrongs and injustices in the Cabinet than the four MCA Ministers or all the Chinese Ministers put together.

On Saturday, I sent an email to the Prime Minister, the Deputy Prime Minister and all Cabinet Ministers - although four  Ministers did not have email address and two bounced back undelivered - calling for the release of 7,168 university
places to non-bumiputra students when there are no more bumiputra students eligible to be selected for admission as Parliament has approved the financial allocations in 2001 Budget and in the interests of national unity and national development.

Over the three-day weekend and Vesak Day holidays, DAP had made the following calls, proposals and announcements:

I am very glad that before the Cabinet, Parliament and the Barisan Alternative Leaders Council meeting, Mahathir has announced that the 7,168 unfilled university places would be released to eligible Chinese and Indian students as all qualified bumiputra students have  been admitted.

In releasing the 7,168 unfilled university places to eligible Chinese and Indian students, the Education Ministry must honour the parliamentary assurance given by the Deputy Prime Minister, Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi on Thursday  that local universities will take in “as many as possible” SPM high achievers and admit all the 500-plus SPM top scorers into the local universities to take up courses they are interested in.

I call on the Education Ministry Higher Education Department director Professor Hassan Said who is responsible for university admissions to be mindful of the proposal by the Malaysian Academic Movement Chairman Dr. Wan Abdul Manan Wan Muda that SPM top scorers should be given a chance to enter university and take up courses they are interested in as this will be in the country’s best interest and that a special programme should be developed for top scorers to ensure they would eventually serve the country.

Wan Abdul Manan said: “We don’t want potential five-star engineers going into fields they are not interested in. We will lose the critical mass of intelligent people if this happens.”  (Star, 5.5.2001).

Mahathir said on Sunday  that the quota system for bumiputras and non-bumiputras for university admissions will be abolished if that is what the people want. He said the government would accept whatever decision was made by the people concerning the quota system.

Yesterday, he said that the quota system on the intake of students into public universities may be relaxed for a particular year if the seats reserved for bumiputras are not filled.

Last Friday, I called on the Education Ministry to  give a full explanation as to why there are no more bumiputera student left who could be taken in by the public universities this year  on the basis of the minimum standards for university entry, the number of bumiputera students who have other avenues of higher education advancement, whether locally or abroad.

The Education Minister, Tan Sri Musa Mohamad, should present a Ministerial statement on this issue and on the whole question of expansion of university places for the next five years in the current meeting of Parliament, and as this important subject had not received the importance it deserved in the two important policy debates on the Third Outline Perspective Plan and the 8MP, Parliament should extend sitting by another day to have a special one-day debate on it.

In such a special one-day debate, Parliament should debate and review the whole issue of the university quotas, whether as Mahathir had thrown up the question, it should be abolished, how it could be refined, whether in trying to resolve injustices it had created new injustices, whether they have become “permanent appendages” when many UMNO Ministers and leaders have publicly declared that they  are “mere temporary crutches”.

Such a Parliamentary review on university quotas should also debate as to whether the implementation of the quota system had been fair and in keeping with the constitutional provisions.

The highly respected Justice Visu Sinnadurai, who is now a jurist with the World Bank, when he was Professor of Comparative Law and Dean of the Faculty of Law, University of Malaya, in his article "Rights in Respect of Education Under the Malaysian Constitution" in F.A. Trindade & H.P.  Lee, “The Constitution of Malaysia, Further Perspectives and Developments” (1986) had raised a very important question about the constitutionality of the implementation of the university quota system.

He contended that the Constitution provides that the  quota system is applicable only on a faculty basis and more  importantly every faculty or institution should reserve places for students of every race - and that no faculty or institution could cater for the Malays alone to the exclusion of the other races.

He argued that the Constitution “does not authorize the administrators of any university to refuse admission to any student of a particular race. It only allows a proportion of the places to be reserved for Malay students.”

He said:  "To apply the quota system on the total number of places available in any particular university  will again be a wrong interpretation of the provisions of the Constitution."


*Lim Kit Siang - DAP National Chairman