This is in fact a great test as to whether the Government and Cabinet is really committed to a K-economy and understand what a knowledge-based economy means.
In fact, if the Education Minister understand the full import of a K-economy, he would not have made a proposal which runs counter to everything that a K-economy implies.
In a knowledge-based economy, the generation and utilization of knowledge contribute to a significant part in economic growth and wealth creation. While the traditional factors of production, that is labour, capital, raw materials and entrepreneurship, remain important, knowledge will be the key factor driving growth, creating new value and providing the basis to remain competitive.
In fact, in the new world of K-economy, higher education is no longer a luxury but essential to national social and economic development.
This is because participation in the knowledge economy requires a new set of human skills. People need to have higher qualifications and to be capable of greater intellectual independence.
Without improved human capital, countries will inevitably fall behind and experience intellectual and economic marginalisation.
One top priority of Malaysia’s education policy for the K-economy should be to improve our human capital by creating a quality higher-education system and achieve the highest-possible rate of attainment of the work force in tertiary education rather than short-sighted policies such as limiting higher education opportunities like the imposition of the 55:45 quota for IPTS.
Last month, Parliament adopted the Third Outline Perspective Plan (OPP3) 2,001-2010 and the Eighth Malaysia Plan 2,001-2005, but it is now evident that Cabinet Ministers and Barisan Nasional leaders do not understand what they contain, as they are written by civil servants.
OPP3, for instance, states:
“5.15. In the area of human resource development, although the overall level of educational attainment improved, the percentage of those in the labour force with tertiary education, which is critical to drive a knowledge-based economy, is still small at 13.9 per cent, as shown in Table 5-1. The enrolment at the tertiary level of the age cohort 17-23 years increased to 25 per cent following the substantial allocation provided for tertiary education, but it is still lower compared with many of the newly industrialized economies (NIEs), as shown in Table 5-2. In addition, enrolment at the first-degree level in public institutions continues to be biased towards the arts courses. While it is recognized that the arts courses are also important in the context of a knowledge-based economy, the need to create a critical mass of scientific and technical manpower necessitates higher enrolment in these fields. Enrolment in science and technical fields constituted only 31 per cent of total enrolment in 1999.”
The two tables mentioned by the OPP3 are most instructive and deserves close and detailed study by all political leaders, policy makers and concerned citizens:
Educational Attainment Of the Labour Force, 1990-2000 (‘000 persons)
Level of Education 1990 % 2000 %
Primary 2,380.2 33.8 2,607.9 27.4
Lower & Middle
Secondary 4,042.1 57.4 5,571.8 58.7
Tertiary 619.7 8.8 1,319.3 13.9
Public Expenditure in Education and Tertiary Enrolment in Selected Countries(%)
Country Public Expenditure Tertiary Education
on Education (of population
(of GNP), 1996 20-24 years), 1993
Australia 5.5 42
Canada 6.9 103
China 2.3 4
India 3.2 6
Ireland 6.0 34
Japan 3.6 30
South Korea 3.7 48
Malaysia (1) 5.2 25
New Zealand 7.3 58
Singapore 3.0 38
United Kingdom 5.3 37
United States 5.4 81
Source: The World Competitiveness Yearbook, 1998, 2000
Note: (1) Refers to year 2000 and age cohort 17-23 years
It should be noted that the figures for Malaysia are for the year 2,000 while the data for the other countries are seven years earlier in 1993, and if the latest data are used, Malaysia would fare even worse in such a comparative study.
The critical issues of raising the participation rate of each generation of Malaysians in the tertiary education level, ensuring world-class quality for our higher education system and ensuring that the emphasis is on producing a critical mass of scientific and technical manpower to power Malaysia into a hi-tech future should be the highest items on the agenda of the Education Minister and his officers.
But this, sadly, is not the case as what concerns Musa are issues like raising the IPTA bumiputra quota from 55% to 66% and imposing the 55:45 quota on IPTS - raising the question whether he is a fit and suitable Education Minister for a Malaysia which wants to catapult into a knowledge-based economy.
The MCA Housing and Local Government Minister, Datuk Ong Ka Ting, has said that at the Cabinet meeting on the OPP3, he had said that no quota should be imposed on the IPTS and that the Cabinet decision was that the government would not restrict or limit the enrolment of non-bumiputra students in the IPTS.
If what Ka Ting said is true, then Musa had breached the principle of collective Ministerial responsibility and at Wednesday’s Cabinet meeting, he should be reprimanded and be required to make a public apology.
However, the credibility of the MCA and its Ministers and leaders are so low that nobody really knows whether to believe their public claims.
Malaysians will still remember the claim by a MCA Minister in February that the Cabinet had made “a historic breakthrough for the future of Chinese education” as the Prime Minister, Datuk Seri Dr. Mahathir Mohamad had at that Cabinet meeting directed the Education Ministry to implement as soon as possible the Barisan Nasional’s 1999 general election pledges to build new Chinese primary schools and relocate Chinese primary schools, and even more important, agreed to the building of more Chinese primary schools “according to need” under the Eighth Malaysia Plan.
But for the past three months, such “historic breakthrough for the future of Chinese education” had not only completely disappeared from the pronouncements of MCA Ministers and leaders, the Education Minister had denied in Parliament that there was any such “historic breakthrough”.
Are we seeing another repetition of the farce of the “historic breakthrough for the future of Chinese education” in the quota issue this time?