Cabinet on Wednesday should end the highly controversial  and unprofessional “merit-based” university entrance selection system  and replace it with a competitive system based on a  common university entrance examination with 80% places awarded on merit and 20% on needs

Media Statement
by Lim Kit Siang

(Penang,  Monday): The statement by the Deputy Prime Minister, Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi that the government is committed to the “meritocracy” system in admitting students into public universities despite a drop in this year’s intake of bumiputera students should be a most welcome one,  if he had gone one  step further to give the firm assurance to improve on the highly controversial and unprofessional  “merit-based” system adopted by the Education Ministry. 

On Friday, the director of the Education Ministry’s Higher Education Department, Dr. Hassan Said said that the intake of bumiputera students in public higher education institutions under the “meritocracy” system has dropped by more than six per cent, from 68.9 per cent last year to 62.6 per cent for the new academic session in June, and the racial breakdown of the intake this year are bumiputeras 62.6%, Chinese 32.2% and Indians 4.7%.

Abdullah said yesterday that the government was committed to continuing the “meritocracy” system as it “forms a benchmark for students  and promotes healthy competition among them” and “let the dip become a lesson and a challenge to bumiputeras and make them work harder to achieve better results this year”.

It was Abdullah who brilliantly diagnosed the Ugly Malaysian and the “First World Infrastructure, Third World Mentality” Malaysian malaise which would obstruct and defeat  the nation’s Vision 2020 objective to become a developed nation, and it is time that the government and the country wake up to the fact that Malaysia cannot become a world-class economy without  a world-class education system including world-class universities.

The first step to have world-class universities is to end the highly controversial and unprofessional “merit-based” university entrance selection system which is generally regarded as a “meritocracy system without merit”  and a  modified extension of the “clutches culture” and therefore a great disservice to the goal to create a competitive generation of Malaysians capable of taking on the world to meet the challenges of globalization, liberalization and information and communications technology. 

It is for this reason that Malaysians, including enlightened Malay academicians and intellectuals, have called for a common university entrance examination in place of the unfair “meritocracy” university selection system which compares an apple with an orange in the unprofessional manner in matching the STPM grades with the matriculation results when they are two completely different examination systems.

This issue was the subject of considerable debate last year.  For instance, former University Sains Malaysia Vice Chancellor, Datuk Dr. Ishak Tambi Kechik called for the abolition of the three pre-university educational systems of Sijil Tinggi Persekolahan Malaysia (STPM), matriculation programme and the Basic Science Centre (Pusat Asasi Sains) run by the University of Malaya and their replacement by one  new system to ensure justice in the selection of university students based on a system of meritocracy. 

He said that the existence of three different systems in a plural society was unsuitable as it would give rise to racial suspicions as the matriculation and Pusat Asasi Sains systems were  not seen as fair to them as being limited only to bumiputeras.  

He said that having only one pre-university system will encourage healthy competition among the students as they will  know the actual status of their academic attainments among their mult-racial  peers.  

Ishak said while meritocracy must be defended as the best system to select students from all races for the public universities, there was  still need for a minimum quota in critical courses to ensure that bumiputeras and Indians will be represented in these courses.  

The Malaysian Academic Movement had also advocated  the introduction of a common university entrance examination for all pre-university students vying for places in public universities.  

Its Chairman, Dr. Wan Manan Wan Muda, said that through the system, students attending matriculation and STPM classes  could sit for the same entry examination after their studies and compete on the same level.  This will ensure that the best students, regardless of race, could get a place in public universities.  

The merit-based system, he said, would also dispel talk of bias in the grading and selection process, as only one yardstick would be used, stressing that “arguing on the basis of race and quota is in itself against the spirit of meritocracy”.  

Former academician  Prof Khoo Kay Kim with more  than 40 years of university teaching experience was no less outspoken when he said:

"I don't think that I can teach anymore. Our students these days are not the same as in the past. Their quality is way below par."  

And his rhetoric of despair: "The question is, are we producing quality students? If our graduates are not capable of competing at international level or making themselves marketable, let's not talk about meritocracy for now."  

Cabinet Ministers should not remain blind or unconcerned about the multiple injustices and fundamental flaws of the present “merit-based” university selection system and to replace it with one which is a “win-win” not only for all races but for the Malaysian nation as well.

The Cabinet on Wednesday should take the bold, imaginative and patriotic  decision to end the highly controversial  and unprofessional “merit-based” university entrance selection system  and replace it with a race-blind competitive system based on a  common university entrance examination with 80% places awarded on merit and 20% on needs. 


* Lim Kit Siang, DAP National Chairman