Is Samy Vellu right that Indians will lose out in a meritocracy and the quota system should  be restored to ensure fair and  equitable intake of Indian students into public  universities?

Media Statement
by Lim Kit Siang

(Penang,  Tuesday): Last May, when it was announced that there was a drop of nearly three per cent to 4.7 per cent for the  Indian student intake into the public  universities, MIC President and Works Minister, Datuk Seri S. Samy Vellu’s first reaction was that his worst fears about meritocracy, which he had opposed in Cabinet, had come true. 

Samy Vellu said  Indians had got at least 7.8 per cent of places in universities under the quota system and the  nearly three per cent drop in admissions was  unacceptable.


He said that when meritocracy came up in Cabinet earlier, he had  opposed it as it would deprive Indians of places in universities. He said  it  was not the right time for meritocracy as Indian students,with their weak socio-economic background, needed more time to prepare themselves to meet the challenges. 

He called for special consideration to be given to Indian students and a return to the quota system for the Indian students for entry into public institutions of higher learning "as we do not have a level playing field at the moment". 

However, despite Samy Vellu’s appeals to the Prime Minister and Deputy Prime Minister for intervention to help the three per cent of qualified Indian students

rejected under the  university  admission exercise, and the passage of a special resolution at the MIC general assembly on May 18 last year calling on the government to review the “merit” system for university admissions, there was no increase whatsoever in the allocation of public university places for Indian students last year. 

This year, the intake of Indian students into the public universities has again  fallen short of the 10% quota or “at least 7.8 per cent” cited by Samy Vellu, as it is only 5.2% as compared to 62.6% for bumiputeras and 32.2% for Chinese, out of a total intake of 37,034.   If the Indian student intake is 10 per cent, another 1,769 Indian students should have been admitted;  if the intake is 7.8 per cent, another 954 university places should have been given to Indian students. 

So is Samy Vellu right that  Indians will lose out in a meritocracy and  a quota system should be restored to ensure fair and equitable intake of Indian students into the public  universities?

I do not agree with Samy Vellu. I believe that the problem does not lie with the ability of Indian students to compete for places in the public universities based on merit, but in a meritocracy system which exists  only in name but not in substance, as any fair-minded academician, educationist or  politician would admit. 

This is why, for instance, the Congress of Teachers’ Unions in the Education Service had joined the call in March this year for a common entry qualification for public universities.  Its secretary-general Shahul Hamid Mydin Shah said that it would be fairer to have a single entry qualification to determine entrance into public universities.  

He said:  “One cannot compare the STPM with matriculation, as they are essentially different examinations.  Even if the grading system for both the STPM and matriculation programmes is the same from this year, there are still many dissimilarities between the two. Matriculation students are given marks for their course work for instance, while those for STPM are not.  Everything is very subjective even with the new grading system.”  (New Straits Times 2.3.03) 

The university quota system purportedly  55:45 for bumiputra and non-bumiputra students agreed upon in the mid-seventies some  30 years ago had become more and more  inequitable, as the deviation from the quota  had progressively worsened as seen from the following statistics for first-degree enrolment in the local public universities as culled from National Economic Consultative Council reports:

First Degree Enrolment in Local Universities

              Bumiputra         Non-Bumiputra         Total

1970            3.084                4,593                 7,677
                  (40.2%)             (59.8%)             (100%)
1980          13,610                8,334               21,944
                   (62%)               (38%)               (100%)
1985          23,841              13,997              37,838
                   (63%)               (37%)               (100%)
1988          30,085              19,705              49,790
                 (60.4%)             (39.6%)             (100%)
1990          35,361              18,309              53,670
                 (65.9%)             (34.1%)             (100%)
1999          97,836              42,084              139,920
                 (69.9%)             (30.1%)             (100%)

(Source: NECC I & NECC II Reports)

The quota system is bad, but the highly controversial and unprofessional  “merit” system  is no better, as seen from the statistics of the student intake for the  first two years of its operation:

                   Bumiputra         Non-Bumiputra         Total

2002            22,557              10,195                32,752
                   (68.7%)             (31.1%)             (100%)

2003             23,182               13,854              37.037
                    (62.6%)             (37.4%)             (100%)

Surprisingly, however, Samy Vellu has been  very quiet in the past four days about the continued sharp drop in Indian student intake into  the public universities for the new academic year.  

Could it be because the announcement of the last year’s university student intake came before the MIC General Assembly whereas for this year the results were released after the MIC general assembly and  party elections – and there is no immediate political mileage to be gained? 

This is probably unfair  to Samy Vellu, and if so, he should  speak up in Cabinet tomorrow to call for an  end to the unprofessional,  inequitable and unmeritorious  “merit-based” university entrance selection system  and replace it with a fair and competitive system based on a  common university entrance examination with 80% places awarded on merit and 20% on needs. 

Nobody can expect any voice of justice and truth  from the other Ministers, particularly MCA Ministers, who are now  more pre-occupied about saving their own political position or future, with the “crucial” MCA central committee meeting on Friday set to announce  major changes in the 14-month power struggle between it’s A and B factions – as determined by the formula laid down by their senior partner in the Barisan Nasional. 

The Prime Minister, Datuk Seri Dr. Mahathir Mohamad said yesterday that Malaysia will not kow tow to the United States or other Western powers but MCA leaders do not seem to be equally inspired and motivated by a fierce spirit of independence as not to kow tow to bigger “powers” in the Barisan Nasional – raising the legitimate question as to how MCA Ministers, Deputy Ministers, Parliamentary Secretaries and MPs, whether from A or B factions, can be expected to stand firm either on their political principles or the rights and interests of the people when their party has to kow tow to other parties in the ruling coalition?


* Lim Kit Siang, DAP National Chairman