International reputation  as  a centre of academic excellence is a greater magnet to attract  foreign students to Malaysia  than setting up education promotion offices overseas – starting  with a common university entrance examination to end the farce of “meritocracy without merit”

Media Statement
by Lim Kit Siang

(Petaling JayaWednesday): \Education Minister, Tan Sri Musa Mohamad has announced the government’s intention to set up education promotion offices in several countries like China, Indonesia, Vietnam and the Middle East to compete with Singapore  to attract more foreign students to enroll  in  public and private educational institutions in Malaysia.

Malaysia targets to have 50,000 foreign students by 2010 from the present 32,000 foreign students, which include about  10,000 students from China and about 6,000 from Indonesia.

It must be recognized that  international acclaim and reputation as a centre of academic excellence is a greater magnet to attract foreign students to Malaysia than the setting up of education promotion offices in countries overseas – and the Education Ministry must never make the mistake of merchandising cheap and low-quality education.

This is why it is urgent and imperative that quality education at the tertiary level must be elevated to become a national objective – bearing in mind that  it is impossible to have quality education at the tertiary level unless there is quality education at the primary and secondary schools, which  lay the foundation of a generation's educational prowess and greatness.

Malaysia faces a crisis of creating a  university system  which is internationally recognised for its academic excellence with the precipitate fall in university standards in the past few decades, churning out more mediocrity than quality.

In the sixties, the country had one university  acclaimed as an  university of international repute and standing – the University of Malaya. However, in the Asiaweek's 2000 ranking of Best Universities in the region, University of Malaya was ranked a lowly 47th position out of 77 universities, with Universiti Putra Malaysia in 52nd and Universiti Sains Malaysia in 57th position.

Asiaweek in 2000 also had a separate ranking for "Science and Technology Schools" where Malaysia's sole mention, Universiti Teknologi Malaysia, was ranked 30th out of 39th universities/institutes, while in the Asiaweek 2000 ranking of the Best MBA Schools in the region, Malaysia's top MBA school, the Faculty of Business and Accountancy in the University of Malaya was ranked a lowly 32rd place among the top 50 MBA schools.

In 2001, the Hong Kong-based Political and Economic Risk Consultancy (PERC) conducted a survey of foreign business executives working in the region on the best education system in Asia and the highest quality labour force. Malaysia came out poorly, ranked seventh out of 12 countries when we should be among the top three, which went to Japan, Singapore and South Korea.

Malaysia's higher education system needs to undergo not just a reform, but a revolution. We must transform, not just in words but in deed, Malaysia into an international centre of education excellence with two objectives:

  • Firstly, to equip the young generation of Malaysians to face the challenges of globalization, liberalization and information and communications technology in the 21st century; and
  • Secondly, to be a magnet for the two million international students pursuing higher education abroad, nearly half of them from Asia, which has been described as "only the tip of the iceberg" as the demand for higher education will grow by leaps and bounds in the next one to two decades with East Asia's combined GDP set to surpass that of the US and the European Union around 2020. Malaysia should aim to secure at least five to ten per cent of these international students to come to our universities, which should not be too difficult if our universities are of international repute, with Malaysia's best among the top ten universities in the Asia-Pacific region, as the cost of living in Malaysia are very much cheaper and lower than those in the West.

As a first step, Malaysia should end the farce of a “meritocracy system without merit”  system for  entrance selection into the public universities, and replace it instead with a genuine and competitive  meritocracy system based on a common university entrance examination. 


* Lim Kit Siang, DAP National Chairman