Call on Ministers not to disappoint Malaysians at the Cabinet meeting on Wednesday as it  is the last chance for 31,572 “rejects”  to be given a second chance for  entry into the  public universities this year  

Media Statement
by Lim Kit Siang

(Petaling Jaya,  Monday)Yesterday,  the 1,500 MIC delegates at the 56th  MIC Annual General Assembly in Shah Alam were  so visibly  upset  by the lack of “good news” from the Prime Minister, Datuk Seri Dr. Mahathir Mohamad for more places in public universities for the Indian community that the MIC President, Datuk Seri Samy Vellu had to cut short the debate on the merit system for university admissions.  

It is however not only the MIC delegates who are upset, as all  Malaysians concerned about our international reputation as an educational centre of academic excellence with a meritocracy system of unquestioned credibility and integrity, the nation’s economic competitiveness in the era of globalisation and information technology as well as the challenge of Vision 2020 to create a united, resilient and purposeful Bangsa  Malaysia are all disappointed that the Prime Minister had not taken the opportunity to end this year’s national furore over the university selection system.  

Mahathir told  the MIC General Assembly that the merit system for admission to local public universities is likely to be retained next year even though it has been questioned by some quarters within the government.

He said the government could not risk losing credibility if it scrapped the system and explained:  “We have made a promise to use the merit system for admission to local universities. We cannot possibly change this if we find the system has resulted in more bumiputra students being qualified and admitted to the universities. If we changed the system, we will not be credible anymore.”

He said the government will study the merit system used for university admissions so that it will be fairer to all groups in the country.

I agree with Mahathir that the government’s credibility will suffer grievously if it should chop and change, switching from quota to meritocracy and reverting to quota the following year.  However, it must also be acknowledged that the credibility of the government and the nation would be seriously impaired if the government is not prepared to urgently rectify the faults and weaknesses so that Malaysia  would not gain national and international disrepute as having a merit-based university selection system without merit.

Despite the insinuation by the Education Minister, Tan Sri Musa Mohamad, the DAP and I have never wavered from our stand and advocacy of university admissions based on merit coupled with “needs” – a race-blind system founded  on a level academic playing field based purely on examination results to ensure academic excellence and ameliorated by socio-economic considerations to take account of the more disadvantaged groups to ensure social justice.

DAP’s complaint about the university selection system this year is not that it is merit-based, but that it is not transparent, fair, impartial and professional enough and should be improved to be the pride of all Malaysians, regardless of race or party affiliation!

Even the 40-NGO Group of Concerned Citizens supports a genuine meritocracy system although it had been wrongly reported by the mainstream media  as opposing the system on the ground that “it would destroy the chance for minority groups to climb the social ladder”.

I have studied and am in full agreement with  the Group’s statement as it  advocates a  meritocracy system where there is “a level playing field that does not discriminate the poor, full transparency and a common entry examination” without which “the claim of meritocracy is flawed”.

Two separate problems have been thrown up by the university intake furore this year:  

Up to now, the Ministerial  focus is on the latter, with hardly any attention to the 31,572 students comprising 24,321 bumiputras, 4,820 Chinese and 2,431 Indians with minimum university entry qualifications who have been rejected in the selection process. Time is running out for them if they are to enter the public universities in the current intake, with universities already starting their academic sessions.

After more than ten days of the meritocracy furore, the MCA President and Transport Minister, Datuk Seri Dr. Ling Liong Sik is still talking about waiting for more information about the merit system before formulating any position.

At least the Gerakan President Datuk Seri Dr. Lim Keng Yaik  and Primary Industries Minister has come out calling for the merging of the STPM and matriculation courses to have a common university entrance examination, but this cannot cannot affect the fate of the  present crop of 31,572 “rejects” on which he is conspicuously silent.

Even the MIC President and Works Minister Datuk Seri Samy Vellu is talking more about restoring the quota system and not focusing on the present crop of rejected university applicants.

The Cabinet meeting on Wednesday is the last chance for the 31,572 to be given a second chance for their applications to be reconsidered and be given a second chance for entry into the public universities, for after Wednesday, their chances of being given places in the current intake of public universities is virtually nil.

For this reason, the Ministers should not disappoint Malaysians and the 31,572 “rejects” in their Cabinet meeting on Wednesday  and they should  work out a formula which is fair and just not only to the 31,572 students but to the country as well.

This formula should rectify the gross injustice of  the arbitrary and summary rejection of the applications from diploma holders, with Musa claiming that getting a diploma was not the normal way for a student to continue his or her studies for a degree at the university.

Musa is wrong here, for getting a diploma is one of the three ways for entry into the public universities in Malaysia, a fact which was confirmed by Musa himself as recently as early February when he announced that except for Universiti Teknologi Malaysia, all universities will stop offering post Sijil Pelajaran Malaysia first degree courses. 

Musa pointedly said: “This means universities will only take those who have completed their Sijil Tinggi Persekolahan Malaysia examination or its equivalent for first degree courses.

“Matriculation  and diploma courses will not be affected by this move.” (New Straits Times 7th February 2002).

If diploma holders are not to be considered for university intake under the merit-based system, then adequate notice should be given and the new rule should not affect students who have joined diploma courses in the expectation that they could proceed to first-degree courses, as it is  most unfair  for goal posts to be moved  midway in area of human activity.

The Cabinet on Wednesday should take the fair and just policy decision to rectify this gross injustice and admit the eligible diploma holders into the public universities.

The second consideration for the Cabinet on Wednesday is to expand public university intake by another 12,000 students in keeping with the government objective to increase university student enrolment to 30 per cent of the school leavers in 2005 and to 40% in 2010.

The total public university intake this year is 32,752, which is 6,445 places or 16.4% fewer than the 39,197 places offered last year, which makes a complete mockery of the Eighth Malaysia Plan (8MP), which projects a 44% increase of degree-level enrolment at the tertiary level in the next five years from 201,271 in 2,000 to 289,806 in 2005.  


*Lim Kit Siang - DAP National Chairman