Everybody a loser with extra 15,000 matriculation places

Last week, it was announced that the government had increased the number of Matriculation places from 25,000 to 40,000 a year. This was touted to be the win-win situation for everybody by the Education Minister with increased number for every group that has asked for more places. Malays, Indians and Chinese all should be grateful for the higher number of intakes.

A place in the Ministry of Education’s Matriculation is highly prized and fiercely fought for. It is viewed as a near guaranteed ticket to a university place. It is less stressful compared to STPM where chances of getting a place in popular courses are probably many times harder.

However, with the sudden increase of 60% more places in matriculation but no new extra university places provided yet, everybody becomes the loser with much tougher competition. Matriculation alone is useless unless it leads to a desired university place. At the moment, there is no decision as yet there will be increased university places. It is a zero sum game. A student’s success in getting a university place can only come at the expense of another student’s anguish.

First group to lose out are the matriculation students. Things will not be as assured as before. Now there are 40,000 people similarly special and privileged, and equally advantaged. The competition had increased by 60% overnight whichever group you are in.

Second group to lose out are the STPM students. With the “better” students selected for Matriculation programme and government diverting teachers and resources away, the chance for the STPM students getting into a popular course like medicine or engineering is bound to suffer a massive drop of more than 60%, possibly as much as 90%. With 15,000 less students, STPM program schools will have less number of students and some maybe forced to close. Teachers and students will end up demoralised and dis-enchanted. More students may opt out and enrol in other programs like A-levels instead. STPM will end up being the poorest cousin of our education system.

Third, the university will be forced to accommodate the extra 15,000 matriculation students who are assumed to be pre-selected to get into universities. After all, they have already been screened for different treatment. There will be tremendous resentment if they cannot get the places they want as most of their classmates would be successful. Increasing the number of university places is not practical or realistic. Universities already faced cutbacks on their budgets. The budget for Universiti Malaya was RM445 million in 2018 but only RM405 million in 2019. We also have too many unemployed graduates already including doctors and lawyers. Producing more of them without better standards do not really help anybody.

Lastly, the country and the tax payers will suffer. The budget for post-secondary school education (Pendidikan Lepas Menengah) was RM418 million in 2017, RM444 million in 2018 and RM395 million in 2019. If the cost of matriculation is about RM15,000 per student, the government would need to spend hundreds of millions of ringgits more on the extra 15,000 students. It is unbelievably illogical for our cash strapped government to invest that amount of money for our best students to go for matriculation with education standards at best the same or likely lower than STPM and no extra university graduates to show at the end. However politically convenient it seems at the moment, every groups that the government tried to please will end up being very angry instead. The angriest will be the students and parents of those left out from the “enlarged” pie. Worst still, it will be impossible and political suicide to reverse the policy and reduce the number back to 25,000 after that.

The government is much more likely to gain goodwill to spend the additional cost of the 15,000 students, estimated to be RM200 million on scholarships and assistance for the B40 university students. It is enough to help 10,000 university students with scholarships of RM20,000, or 100,000 B40 students with living allowance of RM2,000 a year. The support for this is likely to be across the board from everybody regardless of races.

The root of the problem really started when many top STPM students failed to get into university of their choice. That created the demand and pressure for more matriculation intakes for top SPM students instead. Government can make a policy that all top STPM students will be given a place in the public, or a scholarship to study an equivalent course in a local private university. It is a far easier solution to the problem with no need to set up additional matriculation centres, create more university places and causing seismic shock to the education system of our country.

In summary, matriculation was not meant to be a universal program for everybody. Enlarging the scope without taking in everybody makes it even unfair to those excluded and marginalised. The attention should be to help everybody in need and award the top achievers in both groups as they will become the driving force of our country’s future.

Dr Ko Chung Sen
Media statement by Dr. Ko Chung Sen in Ipoh on Sunday, 5th May 2019