End denial syndrome over  Malaysia’s fraudulent  meritocracy for university student intake – introduce common university entrance  examination to introduce true meritocracy as a basis for a new system of public university student intake founded on merit coupled with need

on Supply (Reallocation of Appropriated Expenditure) Bill 2004
by Lim Kit Siang

(Dewan Rakyat, Tuesday): There is something very wrong about the system of values in Malaysia, not only among the people but among the leaders as well. 

Last month, more than half a dozen Cabinet Ministers and deputy ministers like the Minister for International Trade and Industry, Datuk Paduka Rafidah Aziz, the Minister for Culture, Arts and Heritage, Datuk Dr. Rais Yatim, the Minister for Human Resources, Dr. Fong Chan Onn, the Minister for Women and Family Development, Datuk Seri Shahrizat Abdul Jalil and the Deputy Internal Security Minister, Datuk Noh Omar rightly expressed shock and outrage at the maltreatment of Indonesian maid Nirmala Bonat . 

However, not a single Cabinet Minister or Deputy Minister has expressed shock or  dismay at a greater tragedy, the suicide of Yap Kah  Ciun, 20,  Universiti Tunku Abdul Rahman (Utar) student formerly  from SMJK Jit Sin,  Bukit Mertajam, who jumped to her death from the fifth floor of Millennium Court in Kuala Lumpur on Sunday because she was not offered a place in the public universities  despite having  fairly good STPM results, scoring a Cumulative Grade Point Average  (CGPA) of  2.5, with the following details: 

Pengajian Am            C          2.00

Bahasa Cina              B+        3.33

Geografi                    C+       2.33

Ekonomi                    C+       2.33                

At least Nirmala is still alive to start a new life, while Yap had been “tortured” to death by the manifest injustices of the national education system! 

This selective anger and outrage was also to be seen in the senseless killing of snatch-theft victim Chin Wai Fung, 38, clerk, in Brickfields, Kuala Lumpur shortly after the public expose of the  horrific maltreatment of Nirmala. Not a single Minister or Deputy Minister was bothered about Chin’s murder as if the life of a Malaysian is cheaper than that of a foreign worker.  

Malaysians were told by the authorities that Chin Wai Fung was only a digit of a very small percentage of Malaysians who are fatal victims of snatch-theft crimes – just like the Education Ministry claiming that only two per cent of the students are involved in gangsterism and  crime in response to the horrific murder of Form IV student, Farid Ibrahim, 16, following  assaults by seniors at the hostel of SM Agama Datuk Klana Putra Ma’amor in Seremban  on 28th March 2004, when in a First World nation, one avoidable and unnecessary death whether from crime or school gangsterism must be regarded as “one too many”!   Otherwise, why the double standards in the outrage over Nirmala’s maltreatment, when she is only one of some two to three  million foreign workers in the country?

Yap’s death  should forever remain a stark reminder to Cabinet Ministers and Education Ministry officials that they are not toying  with abstract and lifeless concepts or matters like statistics, CGPAs and percentages, but affecting  human lives with  their blood, sweat and tears, and to be always conscious of the  great human costs, life-long traumas  and tragedies they can cause when they “play God” over  the future of our sons and daughters.

Yesterday, Utusan Malaysia carried the  front-page headline “Shafie: Rayuan tempat di IPTA tidak akan dilayan”, where the Minister for Higher Education, Datuk Dr. Shafie Mohd Salleh stressed “beliau tidak akan melayan sebarang rayuan daripada mana-mana pelajar yang gagal di tawarkan tempat di institusi pengajian tinggi awam (IPTA)”.

The Utusan report said:

“Beliau berkata, pelajar dan parti politik boleh merayu dan membawa ke Kabinet, tetapi realitinya tidak ada tempat lagi untuk mereka di IPTA. Mengikut sistem meritokrasi, katanya, jika seseorang pelajar itu gagal bermakna tiada tempat untuk mereka di IPTA.”

Shafie was responding to the statement by the MIC President and Works Minister, Datuk Seri S. Samy Vellu that he is appealing to the Higher Education Ministry on behalf of 387 Malaysian Indian students who are eligible to enter local public universities but are not offered places.   

Samy  said  that although these 387 students obtained marks that qualified them for places at the universities, they were not given any seats and this was a cause for concern.

Of the 387, one student had a CGPA of 3.9, five students had 3.8-3.5 CGPA, 11 students had 3.49-3.0 CGPA, 170 students had 2.99-2.5 CGPA and 200 students had 2.49 CGPA and below.

There are thousands of such cases as tragically highlighted by the suicide of Yap Kah Ciun.   Although there is a “happy ending” for the 128 top scorers with the maximum CGPA of 4.0 but initially denied their choice of a medical course after the intervention of the Prime Minister, Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi, the plight of thousands of student high-achievers who got good CGPA points but not offered the course of their choice or like Yap who were  not offered any  university place should not be ignored.

For this year, of the 85,966 students who applied for admission into the 14 public universities, 84% qualified for entry based on the minimum requirement of 2.0 CGPA but only 45% were offered places.  

This means that  some 30,000 who had the requisite CGPA  for university selection were denied places, apart from the thousands who had been offered courses which had nothing to do with their STPM subjects, which they have no interest or have not heard about previously.

Yap Kah Ciun should not die in vain. Let her death make Shafie and the Cabinet decide tomorrow to increase an  additional 4,000 university intake to match last year’s increase of student intake  of 16% as the only fair and equitable way to resolve the university student intake controversy in keeping with the Barisan Nasional general election pledge of “Cemerlang, Gemilang, Terbilang”. 

In this connection, Malaysians are  greatly relieved by the clarification by the Second Finance Minister Tan Sri Nor Mohamed Yakcop on Saturday correcting the statement by the parliamentary secretary to the Finance Ministry, Datuk Hilmy Yahya and his assurance that the government is “comfortable” and has ample funds to continue development projects. 

Hilmy Yahya had said  last Thursday that the government is running out of development funds because ministries are spending their allocations “too fast”, resulting in only RM17 billion from the Eighth Malaysia Plan left for development projects; and that  instead of staggering their expenditure over five years, the ministries spend at a faster rate, leaving only RM17 billion from the RM160 billion given at the start of the plan in 2,000.

Nor Mohamed clarified that the Government initially approved RM110 billion under the Eighth Malaysia Plan, but the figure was revised upwards to RM160 million in October last year.  Based on expenditures of RM110.6 billion from 2001 to 2003, the Government still has an allocation of RM49.4 billion for the period 2004-2005.

The question is how Hilmy could arrive at a set of figures which is completely different from those of Nor Mohamad – the former saying that there is only RM17 billion left while the latter correcting him  that there is still allocation of RM49.4 billion for 2004-2005.  A proper explanation is owed to Parliament and the nation for this gross discrepancy committed by Hilmy  and the debate on the  2004 supplementary estimates is the most opportune occasion for this purpose.

In any event, the assurance by Nor Mohamed that the government is “comfortable” and has ample funds for development should reinforce the case for the increase of additional 4,000 university places to resolve the injustices of the university student intake controversy by matching last year’s 16% increase of student intake.

The time has come to  end the denial syndrome over  Malaysia’s fraudulent  meritocracy for university student intake – and to introduce a common university entrance  examination to introduce true meritocracy as a basis for a new system of public university student intake founded on merit coupled with need.

It is only then that  justice could be done to students as well as to  the national interests, as a fraudulent meritocracy will be an annual  source of national disunity as well as  an impediment to Malaysia from achieving the Vision 2020 objective of being a fully developed nation in all its political, economic, educational, social, spiritual  and psychological dimensions. 

UMNO leaders know that they are not practising the true and  genuine article of meritocracy  for intake into  the public universities and this is why they are talking about the “Malaysian mould of meritocracy” – which merely means “meritocracy without merit”! 

So long as there is the “Malaysian mould of meritocracy”, which is merely a reminder to all and sundry that there is only meritocracy in label but not in substance, the annual intake of students into the public universities will be a source not only of individual disappointments and frustrations, but even more serious, of national disunity.  

This year’s intake of 38,892 students into the public universities, comprising 24,837 bumiputra students (63.8%), 11,778 Chinese students (30.3%) and  2,277 Indian students (5.9%) is again no exception because of the differential and discriminatory application of two different examinations for entry into the public universities – the two-year STPM and one-year matriculation examination, when they are completely different and not comparable. 

This year, for instance, 1,774 students obtained the maximum CGPA of 4.0, viz: 

Breakdown of Top Scorers 

CGPA. 4.0

Total                1,774

STPM                  527

Bumiputeras            1
Chinese               503
Indian                   23

Matriculation      1,247

Bumiputeras         789 
Chinese               419
Indian                   39

As only 10 per cent of the MARA matriculation courses are open to non-bumiputeras, this means that non-bumiputra students representing 10% of the matriculation candidates  secured 36.73% of the candidates with the top CGPA score of 4.0 as compared to the 63.27% securing the top score by  bumiputra students representing 90% of the matriculation candidates. 

What would be the position if there is a common university entrance examination, whether with all students being required to take the two-year STPM or the one-year matriculation? 

It is safe to venture a guess. If all Malaysian students have to take the one-year matriculation as a common university entrance examination, there could be as many as 5,000 students scoring the maximum CGPA of 4.0 and not just 1774.  Or if all Malaysian students have to take the two-year STPM as the common university entrance examination, then the total number of students scoring the maximum CGPA of 4.0 would be very much  reduced by one-third to one-half of the total of 1,774 for this year.

If we are serious and genuine about meritocracy, then we must be prepared to have a common university entrance examination, whether the two-year STPM or one-year matriculation for all students, or a completely new examination altogether. No Malaysian will object or begrudge  an university student intake policy based on “merit coupled with need” to ensure other important considerations of proper ethnic and socio-economic representation are also taken into account in admissions into public universities, but these considerations should be kept completely separate and distinct from the system to establish and determine academic  meritocracy in a common university entrance examination. 

The “Malaysian mould of meritocracy” is not only unfair to non-Malay students but also to Malay high-achievers.   

When announcing the Cabinet decision last Wednesday to offer medical places to all the 128 top scorers, the  Minister for Higher Education, Datuk Dr. Shafie Salleh, said the increased enrolment into medical schools was made possible following the Malaysian Medical Council’s (MMC) decision to recognize a doctor-to-student ratio of 1:6, compared to 1:4. 

Shafie said the MMC had agreed that the 1:6 lecturer-student ratio need not be maintained at the pre-clinical stage (normally the first two years of a medical degree) where subjects such as anatomy, biochemistry and physiology are taught.  At the clinical stage where internal medicine, psychiatry and paediatrics are among the subjects, the ratio had to be observed. 

He said: “The MMC feels that it will be acceptable for a lecturer to be teaching up to 10 students at the pre-clinical stage. After that, if necessary, students will be re-distributed, possibly to other schools to achieve a 1:6 ratio.” 

I have been informed that this 1:6 lecturer-student ratio for the clinical stage is more myth than fact. 

The Barisan Nasional MP for Batu Pahat, Dr. Junaidy bin Abdul Wahab, when seeking clarification from Shafie during the  winding up of  the debate on the Royal Address last Tuesday, revealed that he graduated as a doctor under a regime of medical education in the University of Malaya where the lecturer-student ratio for the clinical stage was 1:10! 

Things are not very different in the University of Malaya medical faulty today. 

This is the account of a very recent batch of medical undergraduates from the University of Malaya: 

“Throughout my medical studies in University of Malaya, I have never had a 1:6 or 1:4 lecturer-student ratio. 

“In pre-clinical, the one lecturer handles a laboratory of 16 students, making it a lecturer-student ratio of 1:16. 

“In the junior clinical phase in Klang hospital, one lecturer is allocated to two groups of students comprising 15 students in each group. This group of 15 is sometimes further subdivided to sub-groups of 8 and 7 students for the teaching in ward rounds.  This means a lecturer-student ratio of 1:15, or at best, the lecturer-student ratio is 1:8 once in two days.” 

The University of Malaya medical school is in fact an excellent illustration why the failure to have a common university entrance examination is also unfair to Malay student high-achievers. 

For the past two years, apart from its annual intake of 160 medical students, the University of Malaya medical school also provides medical places for students from the Perak College of Medicine (PCM) for the first three years of pre-clinical phase. 

In 2002 for instance, the University of Malaya offered 160 medical places, i.e. 94 Malays, 50 Chinese and 16 Indians; and 60 places for PCM students, i.e. 57 Malays, two Chinese and one Indian.  In 2003, the 160 medical places comprise 97 Malays, 62 Chinese and 1 Indian, while accepting 90 students from PCM, comprising 86 Malays, 2 Chinese and 2 Indians. 

Two observations are pertinent: Firstly, Malay  medical students in the University of Malaya, who were required to have a minimum CGPA of 3.88, felt aggrieved that  PCM students have a much lower minimum academic attainments, with students with CGPA as low as 3.52. 

Secondly, the Malay students accepted by  University of Malaya for its medical school have impressive SPM results, with strings of As like their non-Malay counterparts,  with many getting 11As, 10As, 9As, 8As and 7As.  This shows that they will be able to hold their own if there is a common university entrance examination for all students – and with a policy of meritocracy coupled with need, the outcome will definitely  be a higher education policy which is more equitable and fair as wlll as enhance Malaysia’s competitiveness and promote national unity and national integration.


* Lim Kit Siang, Parliamentary Opposition Leader, Member of Parliament for Ipoh Timor & DAP National Chairman