We call for a Royal Commission of Enquiry on education because we do not think that the Mahathir Education Committee is sufficient to get into the root causes of the malaise in Malaysian education including the universities

Press Statement
by Dr
Tan Seng Giaw

(Kuala Lumpur, Wednesday):  UMNO calls the shot in Malaysian education. Its Supreme Council has recommended the Prime Minister Dato¡¯Seri Dr Mahahtir Mohamad to head a new National Education Review Committee to review the whole educational system to improve its quality and to foster national unity.

This is the second Mahathir Education Committee, the first one being in the late 70s last century. Once UMNO Supreme Council has made the recommendation, the Cabinet decides. Then, some leaders of the BN component parties make comments such as saying that Chinese-based parties would be taking part in the review.

Would Dr Mahahtir complete his review of the entire educational system before he leaves in October, 2003? Does he intend to deal with primary Chinese and Tamil schools to fit into his perception of national unity? Although the 10-year Education Development Blueprint has a wealth of information on Malaysian education, the Prime Minister would need more than a committee to get into the true causes of the sickness in our education including universities.


Universities are the highest centres of learning where students learn to think and to pursue knowledge, realizing their potential for the furtherance of society.

This is contained in the 10-year Education Development Blueprint that was drawn up in 2001 by mono-ethnic driving and main committees, 26 departments or divisions and all state education departments. The Education Minister Tan Sri Dato¡¯ Seri Musa Bin Mohamad says that his ministry aims to implement all aspects of education including accessibility, equity, quality, effectiveness and efficiency of management. As such, the Prime Minister Dato¡¯ Seri Dr Mahahtir Mohamad praises the blueprint as a complement to the Third Outline Persepective Plan and the Eighth Malaysia Plan towards Vision 2020, reaching world standard in education. The ministry aims to produce individuals who are very knowledgeable, highly skilled and capable of being global players based on science and technology (S & T) especially in information and communications technology (ICT).

The Government has not presented the blueprint in Parliament. Now, the Prime Minister heads the new Education Review Committee. Would he still regard the blueprint as relevant?

In this section on public universities, we intend to propose alternatives to the strategies of the Education Ministry to produce creative graduates, questioning, curious, arguing, reasoning and thinking individuals with the ability and courage to pursue knowledge.

We emphasize the need to inculcate the universal values shared by all religions including tolerance and harmony among all races. We have to overcome the polarizations that exist in the universities.

Political parties influence Malaysian education. This should be stopped. If not, public universities will not be centres of excellence.


We should be sensitive to imbalances among the races. As with all socio-economic divides, we must narrow the educational gap. But, this must be done without creating further disaffection and discontent.

The Government says that less than 40% bumiputera in the 17+ to 23+ cohort are in higher education. Public institutes of higher learning (IHLs) have more bumiputeras whereas private IHLs have more non-bumiputeras. There must be genuine efforts to overcome this imbalance.


In the past three decades, we have witnessed the replacement of non-bumiputeras by bumiputeras in the education ministry, administrative and teaching staff members in public universities. There are more bumiputera students. Details on racial breakdown of student admissions are unavailable. The criteria used for selection are often arbitrary, causing much anger in the name of the New Economic Policy.

For years, there has been serious brain drain. Very few intelligent academics stay behind under humiliating circumstances. They move to the private sector or emigrate.

Some have argued that there is brain drain from other countries such as Singapore, China and Australia or even UK to USA. This is true. Then, we must look at the magnitude. If the magnitude is big, Malaysia will not have a world-class education.

We talk about racial tolerance, integration and harmony. We prattle about Malaysia being the model of racial harmony in the world including adoption as a model by Oxbridge Universities in UK. But, if many departments in the ministry is mono-ethnic, the vice-chancellors and senior administrators are bumiputeras only, then this cry for global players and excellence in education is meaningless.

Previously, non-bumiputeras dominate nursing courses. Now, bumiputera nurses are taking over. For example, in the diploma courses in nursing in Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia, there are 178 first-year students with two Chinese and seven Indian, 102 second-year, three Indian and no Chinese and 96 third-year with three Indian and no Chinese. Out of the 22 degree students, two are Chinese but no Indian. There are 11 students in the Advanced Midwifery Course with two Chinese and no Indian.

Granted, there are many factors. First graders in SPM choose some other courses and non-bumiputeras avoid nursing. But, the Government does not make genuine efforts to find out the factors causing the stark imbalance and the ways to remedy them. Most of the patients in the Hospital UKM in Cheras, Kuala Lumpur, are non-bumiputeras. On the other hand, there are hardly any non-Bumiputera nurses.

There are people who say that they do not care about addressing the mono-ethnic nature of the ministry, the departments, the vice-chancellorships or even whether Malaysians ever get the Nobel prize. Many Nobel laureates, who have done outstanding work in USA or other developed countries originated from former Communist or less developed countries. What is important is the majority of students getting a decent education, able to put the theories propounded by these and other laureates into good use. Most people cannot aspire to be laureates. But, they can learn to apply knowledge. Americans, Japanese and Koreans are applying themselves successfully.

So, Malaysia can only attain world-status in education by finding out the factors that impede implementation such as the wealth of action plans in the blueprint. The Government must find out the ways to overcome the feudal mentality, mediocrity and bloody-mindedness in various departments, including the tyranny among some academic staff members. How do we overcome the mafias in nooks and corners of the universities?

The Prime Minister can head an Education Review Committee. But, he will face difficulties in getting into the root causes of the malaise in education because of multitude of reasons including vested interests. Although there are people such as the current Education Minister saying that the stumbling blocks are not acute enough to warrant a high-power commission, we believe that the Government should set up a Royal Commission of Enquiry on Education, enquiring into all aspects including universities.


* Tan Seng Giaw: DAP National Vice-Chairman and MP for Kepong