Unfair and unprofessional university admission meritocracy system, resulting in intake  of 77.6 % bumiputra, 19% Chinese and 3.4% Indian students, destructive of Malaysian spirit and contrary to Vision 2020 concept of Bangsa Malaysia

Speech (2)
DAP Education Forum “Education: English, Universities and National Integration” 
by Lim Kit Siang

(Kuala Lumpur,  Thursday) We have a special painting of an apple, an orange and a pear done for the  backdrop for this forum, as well as an apple, an orange and a pear on the main table to symbolize the double injustices done this year  to the students applying for admission to public universities  by an unfair and unprofessional  meritocracy system for university selection.

First the apple and the orange – to illustrate the absurd formula used to match two completely different examinations with different evaluation procedures, one the two-year STPM and the other, an one-year matriculation course.

The STPM is a well-tested, open  and standardized system with external moderation and affiliated with the Cambridge Local Examinations Syndicate based solely on the final examination, while the American-based matriculation system is a  totally different creature altogether, with evaluations based not just on the final examination but on attendance, assignment, presentation with lecturers having a greater say in determining the grades in the 22 matriculation centres and where the final examination mark rates only 50 to 70 per cent of the  matriculation results.

The STPM examination is  acknowledged as one of the most internationally difficult examinations in the world – regarded as harder than its equivalent, the Cambridge A levels, which is why students from the upper-income bracket prefer to choose  the A levels instead of STPM, not only  because it is a ticket to overseas universities but also  the lack of an academic level playing field for admissions to local universities.  Students opted for diploma courses as a route to universities because  STPM is regarded as a more difficult examination.

When the public university intake for the 2002/2003 academic session was first announced on 9th May, the Director of Higher Education Department, Professor Hassan Said refused to explain the special formula used to match the matriculation results with the STPM grades, merely saying that experts had been enlisted to help streamline the gradings from the matriculation and STPM streams.

When pressure mounted for greater transparency for the “special formula” to match to two examination results, Hassan claimed that the “formula and calculation were  very technical and highly academic” which no layman would understand.

When public pressures for transparency mounted further and the political masters find them increasingly unbearable, and Hassan had to make public the formula to match the results of the two examinations, it turned out to be a very simple formula and there was nothing “very technical and highly academic” about it.

In fact, it was such a simple formula that it does not require any expert or Ph.Ds  to devise  any esoteric  formula  as even a good primary school student would be able to work out and match within minutes  the two lists of STPM and matriculations results by equating the top-mark STPM “A” with the matriculation CGPA “A” with a score of 4 while at the bottom line, equating the STPM “E” with the matriculation CGPA “C” with a score of 2.

What is so difficult in the  formula as to make Hassan describe it  as  “very technical and highly academic”  when it is so simple and mechanical?

The most important issue, however,  is whether the formula used  is a fair and professional measure to match  two completely different examination systems with different evaluation methods  - whether the matriculation “A” is really equivalent to a STPM “A” and whether a matriculation “C” is equivalent to a STPM “E”.

In May  last year, Utusan Malaysia carried an article about a study  by Universiti Utara Malaysia (Bidin Yatim, Sharipah Soaad Syed Yahaya and Nor Azilah Ngah, 1997) on the performance of matriculation holders in the first year of university compared to STPM holders.  The study found that matriculation students on the whole could not maintain their high  CGPA after their first semester.

A professional matching of the two completely different  STPM and matriculation examinations and their results would require academic and technical expertise, as there would have to be a comparative review and evaluation of the academic standards and quality of learning and teaching under the two different systems, which was not done at all.  The formula by the Education Ministry was as unfair as comparing an apple with an orange.

But there is another injustice – the throwing of the pear into the dustbin. I am referring to the tens of thousands of diploma holders who were not even  considered for selection under  the merit-based system in the university intake this year.

On 2nd May 2001, when Hassan first announced the 2001/2002 academic session university intake, he said that out of the 30,832 successful applicants, about 20,000 were STPM  candidates, 6,000 matriculation students and the rest diploma holders. This meant that for last year, some  4,800 diploma holders were offered places for first-degree university courses.

The Education Ministry has committed a grave injustice by destroying the  hopes and legitimate expectations  of tens of thousands of diploma holders in  refusing even to consider their applications, including those who have scored the  full CGPA mark of 4, when for years, the diploma course has been accepted as one of the three normal avenues for a student to continue studies for a degree in a public university. 

In refusing even to consider the applications of the diploma holders, the Education Ministry had acted both unfairly and unlawfully – and the DAP is prepared to give legal assistance to diploma holders who wish to challenge the legality of the Education Ministry’s decision.

It is very disappointing  that in the last two Cabinet meetings, no Ministers, whether UMNO, MCA, Gerakan or MIC had  raised these two injustices of the university admission system this year.

The  MIC President and Works Minister, Datuk Seri S. Samy Vellu has made a lot of noise, declaring that his “worst fears about the meritocracy system have come true” – but he studiously avoided both these injustices.

The Education Minister, Tan Sri Musa Mohamad had said the number of non-bumiputras who sat for the STPM last year were so low that even if all the qualified students were admitted into the universities, the university quota would not have been filled.

This is not true.

The public university intake this year totals 32,752, comprising 22,557 bumiputras (68.9%), 8,665 Chinese (26.4%) and 1,530 Indians (4.7%). If the  1,007 Indian students who had met the requirements of the merit-based selection system had  been offered places, the percentage of Indian students in the university intake this year would be  7.7%.

Another 1,424 Indian students  who submitted their applications for university admission were rejected on the ground that they do not meet the requirements of the merit-based system.  I still cannot understand this explanation, as I would have thought that all those who had made their applications would have met the minimum conditions for university admission.  If this group is included, then the percentage of Indian student intake would have shot up to 12% - well above the 10% allotted to Indians under the 55:35:10 quota for bumiputra, Chinese and Indian students respectively.

However, the 10% quota for Indian students had always been a myth for the past quarter of a century, for the Indian student intake under the quota system had never touched 10%, and had hovered between 4% to less than 8%.

For this year, the Indian percentage in the university intake had in fact slumped to below 4%, as the 32,752 student intake with the breakdown of 68.9% bumiputra, 26.4% Chinese and 4.7% Indians  for this year’s admission into public universities are incomplete figures.

As announced by Hassan on May 9, there is another batch of university intake which had not been taken into consideration – an offer of 12,784 places to bumiputra students only for courses in Universiti Teknologi MARA (UiTM), Kolej-Universiti Islam Malaysia, the International Islamic University and various Islamic faculties, giving a grand total of 45,536 student intake into the public universities this year.

When these 12,784 places in public universities are taken into account,  the breakdown of racial percentages in the university intake this year will be 35,341 bumiputra (77.6%), 8,665 Chinese (19%) and Indians 1,530 (3.4%).

The unfair and unprofessional university admission meritocracy system, resulting in intake  of 77.6 % bumiputra, 19% Chinese and 3.4% Indian students is destructive of the  Malaysian spirit and contrary to Vision 2020 concept of Bangsa Malaysia.  

The use of a meritocracy system, which is   palpably clear to everyone that is unfair and unprofessional,  depreciates the sense of self-worth of both the victims and the beneficiaries of the system, demeans the Malaysian spirit and devalues the goal of an achievement-oriented meritocratic society.  

It is for this reason that there should be no delay to rectify the injustices of the unfair and unprofessional meritocracy system this year by expanding places in the public universities for the “rejects” as well as to introduce a common university entrance examination system by building junior colleges to cater for all pre-university students to sit  for  a common university entrance examination.


*Lim Kit Siang - DAP National Chairman