Cabinet should take the bold and patriotic step to mark the 46th National Day by laying a solid foundation for Malaysia’s future competitiveness and prosperity by ending bogus meritocracy and blazing the path for true academic excellence for Malaysian students, whether in local or foreign educational institutions
by Lim Kit Siang
(Penang, Friday): The revelation by the Education Minister, Tan Sri Musa Mohamad that half of the Malaysian medical students enrolled in some universities in Ukraine and Russia are not qualified and some even failed science is most shocking and is a terrible reflection of the failure of the Education Ministry to uphold academic standards of Malaysian students, whether at home or abroad.
Musa said that in Ukraine, the digit nine (which denotes failure in Malaysia) is the highest grade, and as a result there are Malaysian students who failed in science who are doing medicine in Ukraine because they are regarded as top-flight students in the subjects from Malaysia! There is also a similar scenario at a Russian university.
This is indeed scandalous and exposes the educational reputation of Malaysia, Ukraine and Russia to international ridicule and contempt.
As a counter, the Education Ministry has formulated a set of minimum academic entry qualifications for students intending to pursue first degree courses in foreign and local universities to ensure only those qualified secure places, and that all agents recruiting students for foreign universities must register with the ministry.
Ensuring minimum qualifications is very different from ensuring quality and academic excellence, and the formulation should have been part of an ambitious educational masterplan to elevate educational quality and academic excellence as top priority objective for Malaysian students, whether locally or overseas.
Recently, the Malaysian education scene was rocked by the Australian plagiarism scandal involving Malaysian students, with the Australian education minister, Brendan Nelson, calling on Newcastle University to reopen a case in which it secretly re-marked the assignments of 15 students who had been failed for plagiarism at a campus it runs in Malaysia.
It was alleged in the Australian media that the 15 students at the university’s graduate school of business at Institut Wira, Kuala Lumpur were initially awarded zero marks for using unattributed material from the Internet in an assignment, but their former lecturer claimed the university overruled his decision and the students were subsequently issued pass marks, some of them receiving distinctions “because it was concerned about losing revenue from offshore students".
Ian Firns, the papers’ original marker, who was identified in the Australian media as the whistleblower, lodged a complaint with the New South Wales state corruption watchdog ICAC over the affair.
I have received an email from Ian Firns, clarifying the Australian media reports with the following self-explanatory correction, as follows:
“The assertion that ‘their former lecturer claimed the university overruled his decision because it was concerned about losing revenue from offshore students’ is incorrect. This assertion has appeared in several places and I have asked in each case that the record be corrected. I would be grateful if you would correct your statement.
“I do not know what the University's motive was for its behaviour. Others have suggested that the motive was concern about losing revenue. I am not convinced that this was necessarily the motive for the original transgression by staff.
“The staff concerned, though quite senior in academic terms, were not senior managers (a deputy front-line manager with no line management responsibilities in his own right made the decision to order the whiting out of my comments and the re-mark with, it seems, the approval of his superior; the re-marking was done by someone who has no management responsibilities whatsoever).
“It is possible that these people had in mind issues such as expediency (there had been a long delay) and gave no thought to the higher-level strategic implications of their actions.”
I had called on the Education Ministry to order a separate investigation into the plagiarism allegation, as the government must not countenance plagiarism by Malaysian students in foreign educational institutions in the country, but it must also not allow Malaysia’s reputation to be sullied without proper basis.
What has the Education Minister to report on the plagiarism allegation as some two weeks have passed, or has he done completely nothing about it?
With the new scandal of Malaysian students with the failure Grade 9 being treated as top distinction grade and doing medicine in Ukraine and Russia, the time has come for the Education Ministry and the Cabinet to grapple with the problem of educational excellence and quality for Malaysian students, including the lack of a world-class university and the 30-year decline of academic excellence and university standards in the public universities.
In the sixties, Malaysia's sole university, the University of Malaya, was rated as one of the best universities in the Asia-Pacific but more than three decades later, it had suffered such a serious erosion of academic standards and quality that it was ranked a lowly 47th position out of 77 universities in the Asiaweek's 2000 ranking of Best Universities in the region, with two other named universities, Universiti Putra Malaysia in 52nd and Universiti Sains Malaysia in 57th position.
Malaysia has currently 17 public universities, 11 private universities, 4 foreign university branch campuses, 3 local private university branch campuses, 2 private university colleges and 516 private colleges/institutes of non-university status – but we do not have a single world-class university when we should have several by our global development status. I do not think Malaysia even ranks among the world’s 300-400 top universities.
The Cabinet should take the bold and patriotic step to mark the 46th National Day by laying a solid foundation for Malaysia’s future competitiveness and prosperity in the era of globalization by setting the top national goal of creating a culture of academic quality and excellence among Malaysian students, whether locally or overseas.
The first step it should take to blaze the path for true academic excellence for Malaysian students, whether in local or foreign educational institutions, is to end the bogus meritocracy in the annual admission of students into the public universities, by introducing a common university entrance examination for all public universities in Malaysia.
The common university entrance examination can be achieved either by having only STPM or matriculation for all university-bound students, or establishing a common university entrance examination for all pre-university students vying for places in the public universities, whether from the STPM or matriculation systems.
The introduction of a common university entrance examination will not only end the bogus meritocracy for university admissions but put a stop to the decades-long division to national unity and nation-building caused annually by the burning issue of inequitable university admissions and is long overdue 30 years after the New Economic Policy and National Development Policy - almost half-way to Vision 2020.
* Lim Kit Siang, DAP National Chairman