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
by Dr Tan Seng Giaw
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
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?
35 PUBLIC UNIVERSITIES
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
Australia with nearly the same size of population as Malaysia has 40 public
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
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