We believe that the Government should build at least 35 public universities of international standard as a basis for the centre of excellence in education

Press Statement
Dr Tan Seng Giaw

(Kuala Lumpur, Wednesday):  Heading the National Review Committee, the Prime Minister Dato Seri Dr Mahathir Mohamad has an onerous task. He promotes quality and national unity in education. But, quality varies. Each aspect may be full of obstacles. How does he deal with national unity in schools and universities? In his efforts to make national schools attractive to all races, would he revamp primary Chinese and Tamil schools? Or would he just let them go naturally?

Dr Mahathir goes in October, 2003. He has less than a year to complete his work in addition to his task as Prime Minister, unless he wants to continue after his retirement.

We have proposed the setting up of a Royal Commission instead of a Review Committee. This will enable him to overcome obstacles in the educational system.

We feel that Dr Mahathir must be more open and receptive. We present our views on the ways to attain world-class education. By 2020, how many public universities will we have? What admission criteria will we use?


In 2000, 25% of the cohort between 17+ to 23+ years enrolled in tertiary education. By 2005, it is expected to be 30% and by 2010 40% of the 16+ to 22+ cohort. In 1996, for the 18-21 cohort, only 5% Malaysians entered the degree level, whereas it was 39% in UK and 41% in USA. By 2000, the total number of students in public and private tertiary education was 753,003. By 2010, the percentage of students for Science (plus technology) and Arts will be 60% and 40% respectively.
In 2000, 23,870 students enrolled at degree level in public universities and the total number in public institutes of higher learning, IHLs, was 277,203.

To achieve 40% of 16+ to 22+ cohort in tertiary education and to raise the number at degree level, we need more universities. BY 2020, there should be at least 35 public universities of international standard.

In the early 50s last century, there was only one university, University of Malaya, MU. In 2002, we have 17 government universities. The Government intends to increase the minimum enrolment of each public university to 20,000.
Australia with nearly the same size of population as Malaysia has 40 public universities.

As the number of universities and students increases, we have to look into all aspects of university education. We want lecturers who are well read and up-to-date. We want students who are creative, questioning, curious and able to do things that are innovative.

Dr Mahahtir would have to spell out the type of quality he envisages in our universities. What caliber does he expect of vice-chancellors? Does he want them to be shackled with party politics? Would he accept outstanding foreigners as vice-chancellors?

Hitherto, there are eight private universities and campuses from four foreign universities. We need multibillionaire philanthropists to create private universities that will be comparable to Cambridge, Harvard, Yale or Cambridge. Through the years, many philanthropists have contributed to these private universities that have autonomous funding. Meanwhile, we must depend on public universities to attain world standard.

Can MU be on par with the above-mentioned universities? Of course, it can. What do we need to achieve it? Dr Mahathir has scientific advisers. He supports the Academy of Sciences. Does he have a workable plan to improve research or its culture? Would he be able to stop brain drain? How does he propose to deal with feudal mentality, mediocrity and bloodymindedness?


In 2002, the Education Ministry spent RM129.57 million on matriculation. In 2003, the allocation is RM164.572 million. Matriculation is a one-year in-house course for SPM students to get into universities. It was intended for Bumiputeras as an objective of the New Economic Policy since 1970 to redress the gap between Bumiputera and non-Bumiputera students. Non-Bumiputeras enter universities through STPM.

In 2002, the Government claims that university entrance is based on meritocracy, using the results in Matriculation and STPM. But, these are two different systems. Admissions based on them provoke controversy.

University admissions should be based on merits and needs. There must be genuine attempts at setting acceptable criteria for all. For example, if STPM is the cornerstone, then all admissions are based on it and equivalent qualifications. Should the Government insist on Matriculation as the criteria, then all admissions should be based on it and equivalent qualifications.

If university admissions and promotions of administrative and teaching staff members are not based on merits, then it is a crime against human dignity and an infringement on human rights.

Dr Mahahtir should look seriously at a fairer standard for admission to universities including the weightage for students from rural areas. The Government mentions level-playing ground. Apart from special cases such as Orang Asli, is the playing ground not level for students of all races going to schools in the same area such as Kuala Lumpur? How does the Government determine whether the level is similar?


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