DAP calls on the Cabinet Ministers to undergo re-education to develop an IT mindset if the nation is to plug into the new global knowledge-based economy

- DAP Forum on “Education in the Era of K-Economy” 
Lim Kit Siang

(Kuala Lumpur, Wednesday): In the past four weeks, I had been sending a weekly email to all the Ministers before each Cabinet meeting asking them to address priority issues intimately connected with our national capability to develop a culture of high productivity and excellence to face the challenges of globalisation, liberalisation and information and communications technology (ICT).

In my first email to the Cabinet on 4th May 2001, I urged the Ministers “in the name of equity, justice, national unity and national development” to implement the university intake quota system in a flexible and “smart” manner, release the 7,168 unfilled public university places to eligible non-bumiputera students and offer university places to the top SPM and STPM top-scorers.

In my second email to the Cabinet on 14th May 2001, I urged the Ministers to urgently redress the  policy neglect to develop high-quality higher education system. I stressed that  in the new economy, human capital is more important than physical capital and the quality of knowledge generated within our higher education institutions is becoming increasingly critical to our national competitiveness.

In my third email to the Cabinet on 21st May 2001,  I urged the Ministers to urgently address the inter-related controversies of fair universities admission, quality of higher education system, K-economy and Bangsa Malaysia to identify and repair the faultlines in the nation-building process to lift Malaysians out of the communal cocoons to face the world competititon as one people.

In my fourth email to the Cabinet on 28th May 2001, I urged the Ministers to repudiate the call by the Education Minister, Tan Sri Musa Mohamad for the extension of the quota system to the private institutes of higher learning (IPTS) and the MCA takeover of two Chinese national dailies, the Nanyang Siang Pau and China Press, as both will become constraints in the drive to transform Malaysia into a K-economy.

I am now convinced that the biggest obstacle to Malaysia’s success to become a K-economy is one of mind-set and  DAP calls on the Cabinet Ministers to undergo re-education to develop an IT mindset if the nation is to successfully plug into the new global knowledge-based economy.

Faced with the challenges of globalisation, liberalisation and information and communications technology (ICT), the Cabinet should be leading and guiding  the nation to address  the critical educational issues of   raising the Malaysian  enrolment in higher education (as a proportion of the number of people at the ages most relevant to higher education), ensuring world-class quality for our higher education system and the emphasis to produce  a critical mass of scientific and technical manpower to power Malaysia into a hi-tech future.

Cabinet leadership in these directions is sorely lacking. Instead, the country has been plunged into highly divisive and negative controversies because the Education Minister  is more interested in “populist” issues like  increasing  the IPTA bumiputra quota from 55% to 66% and  imposing the 55:45 quota on IPTS.

What is worse, public credibility in government data, whether educational or economic, has reached a crisis stage as  both the Education Minister and  his Parliamentary Secretary,  Datuk Mahadzir Mohd Khir have been using false statistics about IPTA and IPTS university intakes.

Both have claimed that bumiputra students are only 55% in the local public universities (IPTAs) and 10% in the local private institutions of higher learning (IPTSs), when in actual fact,   in the past two decades, the  bumiputra student ratio in the IPTAs was  not 55% but very much higher, ranging from  65.9 per cent in 1990 to 69.9 per cent for the  first-degree level;    while the IPTS bumiputra student ratio is very much higher than 10 per cent, e.g. for 1999, bumiputra students in the  IPTS  comprised 19.4 per cent of first-degree, 40.45 per cent of diploma and 52.1 per cent of certificate enrolment, or  40.6 per cent of total IPTS tertiary enrolment.

The problem before the nation is not whether  the Government and Cabinet is committed to a K-economy but whether they understand what a knowledge-based economy means.

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.

Is the Cabinet prepared to recognise and respect the right of every Malaysian to tertiary education as a first step to transform Malaysia into a  K-economy?


*Lim Kit Siang - DAP National Chairman