Low percentage of Indian students in public university intake because the Indians are caught, not by the “meritocracy trap”, but by the “political trap” which must be broken by the Cabinet expanding university places for eligible students  

- meeting with NGOs representatives on the unfair and unprofessional merit-based university selection system for the 2002/2003 academic year held at DAP PJ Hqrs 
by Lim Kit Siang

(Petaling Jaya,  Tuesday)Many questions have been raised and remained unanswered in the wake of the public furore over the  public university student intake for the 2002/2003 academic year and the unfair and unprofessional merit-based university selection system.

After the public university intake of 32,752 was announced on 9th May 2002, comprising 22,557 bumiputras (68.9%), 8,665 Chinese (26.4%) and 1,530 Indians (4.7%), MIC President, Datuk Seri S. Samy Vellu said that his worst fears about meritocracy had come true with the drastic drop of nearly three per cent to 4.7 per cent this year.

He said  the Indians have been caught in the “meritocracy trap” saying that it was clear that the Indians could not compete on an equal footing with others due to historical reasons which had to be rectified before meritocracy could be applied to them.

What Samy Vellu said was in fact an indictment of his 23-year leadership as MIC President as Malaysian Indians, who had held their place in economic and educational fields in the country in the early decades after Independence sometimes well beyond their numbers, have deterioriated in their status in the nation to become the new underclass to the extent that MIC is talking about a “meritocracy trap” for Indians and asking for the restoration of the quota system for university admissions. 

Although this is a separate issue, it raises the important question whether Samy Vellu is right that the Indian students are caught in a “meritocracy trap” resulting in their having only 4.7% of the public university intake this year, and that only by reverting to the quota system of the past three decades of 55:35:10 for bumiputra, Chinese and Indian students respectively could the Indian students be assured of fair and just allocation of higher education opportunities in the public universities.

The government is very secretive about releasing facts and figures, but we can make a very intelligent guess from various official data and admissions to draw two conclusions: firstly, that the Indian student university intake had never reached 10% in accordance with the university quota for Indians during the 23 years when Samy Vellu was MIC President and Cabinet Minister and secondly, that this is not the first time in the past 23 years that  the Indian student intake had fallen below 5% and that there had been years when it had fallen even lower than the 4.7% this year.

In the past 23 years, the 55:35:10 university quota for bumiputra, Chinese and Indian students had never been adhered to as illustrated from the following statistics for first-degree enrolment in the local public universities, collated from the first and second National Economic Consultative Council (NECC) reports:

First Degree Enrolment in Local Universities

                          Bumiputra                 Non-Bumiputra                       Total

1980          13,610             8,334              21,944
               (62%)             (38%)              (100%)
1985          23,841            13,997              37,838
               (63%)             (37%)              (100%)
1988          30,085            19,705              49,790
             (60.4%)           (39.6%)              (100%)
1990          35,361            18,309              53,670
             (65.9%)           (34.1%)              (100%)
1999          97,836            42,084             139,920
             (69.9%)           (30.1%)              (100%)

(Source: NECC I  & NECC II Reports)

In the past few days, Samy had admitted that the racial breakdown of public university intake last year was bumiputras 64.5%, Chinese 27.5% and Indians 7.8%., with a negligible percentage going to others.

In the years when the bumiputra student percentage was nearly 70%, as in 1999 when it was 69.9%, the Indian percentage could be as low or lower than   4.7%.  If this was the case, then the problem of the low percentage of Indian student intake into the universities is not so much because of the “meritocracy trap” as the “political trap”.

Can Samy Vellu ask the Cabinet to release the full details of the racial intake percentages for all the years since the introduction of the 55:35:10 quota system  to show the extent of their deviation? 

Another question is whether Indians will lose out in a meritocracy system and must find protection in a quota system. 

I believe if there is a fair and professional matching of the matriculation grades and STPM results, and not at present like comparing an apple with an orange, more eligible Indian applicants would have the opportunity to be offered university places this year.

The 40-NGO Group of Concerned Citizens have rightly pointed out that the problem with the low Indian student intake is not with meritocracy but the flaws of an unfair and unprofessional meritocracy system, and the necessity for a “needs” element to take into account socio-economic considerations of the disadvantaged groups to ensure social justice.

There are many other questions, but the most immediate and pressing concern is that the Cabinet tomorrow should take the policy decision to expand university places for the 31,572 students, comprising 24,321 bumiputras, 4,820 Chinese and 2,431 Indians with the minimum university entry qualifications.

The Cabinet tomorrow must be mindful that in approaching the problem of public university intake, the overriding consideration is that Malaysians must be able to compete with the rest of the world in the era of globablisation to establish Malaysia’s international competitiveness and not competing among ourselves or among the races, and for this reason, the problem must not be seen as a zero sum game as to which race wins but a win-win game for all Malaysians regardless of race and the nation together to win.

If the Cabinet does not take any action tomorrow to expand places for the 31,572 ‘rejects’, then their hopes for entry into the public universities will be doomed – which will be a loss to them as well as to the nation.


*Lim Kit Siang - DAP National Chairman