Bumiputra university quota not “Rob Peter to pay Paul” but “Win-Win” formula to create dynamic and competitive workforce for K-economy

Media Statement
by Lim Kit Siang

(Penang, Saturday): Although government leaders, including the Prime Minister, Datuk Seri Dr. Mahathir Mohamad and his two predecessors Tun Razak and Tun Hussein Onn, had repeatedly given the assurance that the New Economic Policy which introduced the quota system is not a “Rob Peter to pay Paul” programme, there are Malay intellectuals  and opinion-makers who refuse to subscribe to the national outlook but insist on regarding it as a zero sum game - that the gain by one involves the loss by another.

It is most unfortunate that these Malay intellectuals and opinion-makers had forgotten a  cardinal principle of the national development policy for the past three decades ever since the start of the New Economic Policy in 1971 that in the implementation of development plans, “no one in Malaysian society need experience any sense of loss or deprivation of his rights, privileges, income, job or opportunity”.

In other words, the national development policy and plans must be undergirded by the  “Win-Win” approach - where university quotas are affirmative policies to lift up  depressed groups and communities in selected educational fields and not to depress and deprive anyone from any group or community of the  opportunity to tertiary education at home.

I agree that efforts should be made to increase the bumiputra participation rate in the IPTS but this can be no excuse or justification to deny places to deserving non-bumiputra students  in the IPTAs in the courses of their choice.

The IPTS are making a great contribution to efforts to optimize the brain power of the nation and create a dynamic and competitive  workforce which are the preconditions for the success of a knowledge-based economy.

Even with the IPTS, which account for 49.5 per cent of the total enrolment of tertiary education in the country, the percentage of the population completing tertiary education is low compared to other newly industrialised countries.

Musa has not been a very successful or impressive Education Minister in the less than 18 months in this key strategic post, leaving many educational controversies unresolved, whether Vision School, the retention of the original Damansara Chinese primary school or the effectiveness of the education system in fostering national unity resulting in the  recent proposal by the former Deputy Prime Minister Tan Sri Musa Hitam for a commission to review the whole system.

On higher education, instead of focussing on the important question of quality of education and how our universities can become centres for the creation of intellectual capital and new knowledge, Musa has chosen to play the populist line of expressing personal support for the irresponsible, outrageous and highly divisive proposal to raise the university bumiputra quota from 55% to 66%.

Instead of continuing to play the populist line, Musa would be doing the Malay community and the Malaysian nation a greater service if he comes up with a masterplan to transform Malay attitudes towards education.

For instance, Musa  was reported by Utusan Malaysia yesterday as saying that the Education Ministry has no problem in implementing a bumiputra university quota at 66% to reflect the racial composition in the country when less than three weeks ago, the Prime Minister, Datuk Seri Dr. Mahathir Mohamad  openly admitted that the government had difficulty meeting the 55 per cent quota for Malay students in universities.

Musa was present when Mahathir spoke at the  opening of  the first National Education Convention at Institute Aminuddin Baki themed “Excellent Leadership in Education is the Foundation for a Successful Vision” last month where the Prime Minister said  this was indicative of the difference in culture between the Malays and Chinese on education - that while the Chinese placed high priority on the acquisition of knowledge, Malay culture did not value knowledge as much.

Mahathir said that while the revelation may give some a heartache, the Malays although given the opportunities did not go about seeking knowledge as earnestly as the Chinese.

He said: “This is why the progress of Malays and Chinese children differ vastly. It is not that the Malays have less superior brains. The brain power of the Chinese, Malay or white people is the same.

“However, the Chinese stress a lot on education and parents are willing to sacrifice a huge portion of their income to pay for their children’s studies”.

Acknowledging that there were Malay parents who did the same, he said the number was however small.

Mahathir said: “Malay students do not study hard even after receiving all kinds of aid and facilities.  This is why we find it difficult to enrol 55 per cent of Malay students in university as they do not have the requisite qualifications.

“Many times, Chinese students who are more qualified have to be rejected.” (New Straits Times 20.4.2001).

As Education Minister, Musa should provide “excellent leadership” not only to transform Malay attitudes towards education, but set an example as an open-minded and liberal  Bangsa Malaysia leader  committed to the rights of all Malaysians, regardless of race, to the best educational opportunities  available in the country based on merit coupled with need to rectify socio-economic imbalances and injustices.

On this basis, Musa should personally ensure that while seeking  to rectify old injustices, the university quota system should not spawn new injustices by producing a package embracing the following three points:

Finally, Musa should publicly apologise for trying to play the irresponsible populist role of giving support to  the proposal to raise the university bumiputra quota from 55% to 66% or the other Cabinet Ministers should censure Musa in the Cabinet meeting on Wednesday.


*Lim Kit Siang - DAP National Chairman