Call on government to initiate a new policy to  reinstate merit  as the most important criteria for all academic appointments and promotions, including appointment of vice chancellors,  as a quantum leap to establish Malaysia as an international centre of educational excellence

Media Statement
by Lim Kit Siang

(Penang,  Monday: A local press yesterday reported that the University of Nottingham in the United Kingdom has appointed a foreigner as chancellor, picking Professor  Fujia Yang, who was former president of Fudan University of Shanghai, to take up the post.  

A nuclear physicist who graduated in physics from Fudan University in 1958, Prof Yang has enjoyed a distinguished academic career both in China and internationally, including a visiting professorship at the Neils Bohr Institute in Copenhagen and at several other universities in the US and Japan.  

The  thought that  would have occurred to Malaysians reading this report is to wonder when one of the public universities in Malaysia would be able to open the post of Vice Chancellor to the best, brightest and most qualified applicants in the international academic world to underline the nationís commitment and seriousness to  transform itself into an international centre of educational excellence.  

However, the  date when Malaysia could appoint a foreigner as an university  Vice Chancellor  is very distant as the country has not  appointed a single non-Malay as a  Vice Chancellor in anyone of the eleven public universities for the past three decades. 

DAP calls on the government to urgently initiate a programme to reinstate merit as the most important criteria for all academic appointments and promotions, including appointment of non-Malay vice chancellors, to demonstrate its commitment and seriousness  to establish Malaysia as an international centre of academic excellence. 

Malaysia must urgently address and resolve  numerous problems in higher education  if we are not to be left behind by the challenges of  globalisation, knowledge-economy and information society.  

Firstly, Malaysia is woefully behind developed countries in the development of our higher education resources  with only 22 per cent of our school leavers, aged between 17 and 22, able to enter higher learning institutes as compared to the United States (90%), Britain (60%) and Australia (60%).  Only 5% of our school leavers enter degree level education, compared to 41% in the US and 39% in Britain. 

Secondly, Malaysia is unable to provide  affordable quality higher education opportunities to all Malaysians at a time when  the right to  tertiary education must be recognised as one  of the fundamental rights of Malaysians.  

Thirdly, the urgent need to inculcate excellence among the Malaysian university students, particularly Malay  students.  Malay students greatly outnumber the non-Malay students in the public universities, but in 1999, only 96 Malays obtained First Class degrees in the University of Malaya, compared to 259 non-Malay students.  In the Universiti Teknologi Malaysia, seven Malays received First Class degrees compared to 95 non-Malay students. 

The government has announced that beginning with the new academic year, a merit-based system would be introduced for the admission of Malay university students but this measures seems to be more politically-motivated than academically-inspired.  

While the full details of such a merit-based university admission system have still to be made public, the government should take the policy decision to bring about a general uplift in the academic standards and excellence  in the public universities by implementing a plan to restore merit as the most important criteria  for all academic appointments and promotions, including the selection of University Vice Chancellors - to end the  indefensible double discrimination in  such  appointments on  grounds of merit and ethnicity and which will be a quantum leap to establish Malaysia as an international centre of educational excellence.  


*Lim Kit Siang - DAP National Chairman