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Mustapha should set up a special task force to ensure that students with good results are not denied higher education opportunities because of economic hardships and administrative labyrinths
Yesterday, Mustapha emailed me for the particulars of the student concerned, which I provided on receipt of his email, expressing the hope that the Higher Education Minister can get her a place in a suitable course in a IPTA.
As the case in point is not an isolated one, I call on Mustapha to set up a special task force to ensure that students with good results are not denied higher education opportunities because of economic hardships and administrative labyrinths.
Mustapha has started to introduce greater transparency in higher education since his appointment as Higher Education Minister in February, the most significant being the tabling in Parliament of the Zahid Higher Education Report to make it a public document.
This process of greater transparency and public consultation, with all stakeholders concerned about the quality of higher education in Malaysia, whether with the academicians, students, Parliamentarians, the civil society, must continue.
Every year, the annual student intake into public universities is not only a trying time for students aspiring to be selected for the course and university of their choice, but a testing time for Malaysian nationhood – whether Malaysians are reminded of their separateness or unity as citizens of a country which is celebrating its half-century of nationhood next year.
Questions have been raised about the credibility and reliability of official statistics given annually by the Higher Education Management Department director-general Prof Datuk Dr. Hassan Saad about student intake into public universities.
For instance, the accuracy of the statistics according to ethnic breakdown which Hassan had given in the past about successful applicants in the “crucial courses” of Medicine, Dentistry, Pharmacy, Engineering and Law.
I have received reliable information that from 2001-2004, University Malaya’s Faculty of Medicine accepted additional students into its Bachelor of Medicine, Bachelor of Surgery (MBBS) course by means of a so-called twinning program with the then Perak College of Medicine (now the Royal College of Medicine Perak).
In 2003 for example, the number of additional medical students taken into the medical course totaled 90, of which all but three were students of Malay ethnicity. When these 90 students were added to the formal intake, the percentage of non-Malay students were even lower than during the quota system era – a fact which was never divulged to the public.
The official statistics are also deceptive, as they do not give separate figures for Kadazandususns and Ibans under the general rubric of “bumiputra” – who are the most socio-economically disadvantaged groups in Sabah and Sarawak.
I have been given to understand that under the quota system, the number of non-Malay Bumiputras entering the UM medical school was rarely less than six. When “meritocracy” was introduced however, the number of non-Malay bumiputras crashed to zero in 2003. Since then, the annual figure has never exceeded three.
Hassan Said should reveal the breakdown of successful applicants by their entrance route – STPM or Matriculation. During the racial quota era, STPM applicants formed at least 40% of the student population. In 2004 and 2005, the era of pseudo-meritocracy, the number of STPM students who gained entry into UM medical school numbered only 36 and 17 out of 168 and 207 respectively – crashing from some 40% to a mere 8-21% of the annual intake into UM medical faculty.
I received an email which said that about 100 bumiputra medical students in University of Malaya failed in 2004/2005 session for the first years, contributing indirectly to the University of Malaya’s drop in international ranking (falling 80 places from 89th to 169th placing in the Times Higher Education Supplement 200 World Best Universities 2005).
This is because of cases of Malay students getting into Medicine even though they were not interested at all.
I made some inquiry and this is one response I got:
“The current medical students, especially the non-bumiputras in first and second years of MBBS UM are very much a different lot from their seniors.
“Ever since the MCA ‘successfully’ opened up 10% of places in matriculation to the non-Malays, the majority of students entering UM Medical course are from matriculation. These are the less competent non-Malay students who got Medicine merely because they had a much easier pathway through Matriculation.
“As a result, in the last two years, we find Indian and even Chinese students failing their exams with Ds, Es and even Fs. As for the 2005 intake, I understand that 10% of the total intake of 207 failed their first year final examinations. I'm not sure about the total of students retained for the supplementary exams, but it included three Chinese students, and a few Indians as well. This was rarely seen during the time they took in non-Malay students from STPM background.
“As for the high failure rate of Malay students, i can only say that it's an old, old, old story. Happens every year, every batch, every intake. What is shocking this year was the 50% failure rate of the students in second year, first semester. I attribute it again to the high proportion of matriculation students in the batch.
“Previously, the STPM students mount a certain degree of pressure upon the matriculation students, forcing them to buck up and rise to the occasion. This is unfortunately not happening anymore. Thus, it becomes a battle between jaguh kampung where the less competent are drawn against the less competent. A good analogy would be like Iran versus Angola in the World Cup.”
It is most fit and proper that there should be clarification from the Higher Education Minister, Datuk Mustapha, the Higher Education Management Department director-general Prof Datuk Dr. Hassan Saad and the University of Malaya Vice Chancellor Datuk Rafiah Salim, whether confirmation, rectification or even rebuttal on these observations.
Parliamentary Opposition Leader, MP for Ipoh Timur & DAP
Central Policy and Strategic Planning Commission
Parliamentary Opposition Leader, MP for Ipoh Timur & DAP Central Policy and Strategic Planning Commission Chairman