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Dismal rankings of Malaysian universities - Mustapha should explain whether government would accept  ASLI recommendation to scrap STPM and matriculation and make the SPM the basic qualification for admission to universities

Media Statement
by Lim Kit Siang  


(Ipoh, Friday) :  It is sad and regrettable that the weekly Cabinet could find the time in the last two consecutive meetings to discuss one single point in  the Asian Strategy and Leadership Institute's (ASLI) Centre for Public Policy Studies (CPPS) study “Corporate Equity Distribution: Past Trends and Future Policy” - 45% bumiputra equity ownership in Corporate Malaysia in contrast to the official statistics of 18.9% by Economic Planning Unit - but has no time whatsoever to discuss other aspects of this study or another  subject which is many times more important with far-reaching implications for the nation and future generations.


This is most irresponsible when it is primarily because of the Cabinet’s short-sighted and misguided higher education  policy which  must bear the greatest responsibility for the  dismal  world rankings of Malaysian universities, with all 17 public universities excluded from the Shanghai Jian Tong University’s 500 Top Universities, Newsweek’s 100 Best Universities and the  Webometrics Rank (WR) of 3,000 Premier Universities.  What we have now are two public universities struggling to keep inside  the only other international ranking - the Times Higher Education Supplement (THES) World University Ranking of 200 Best Universities.


Nobody will be surprised if University of Malaya (UM)  and University Kebangsaan Malaysia (UKM)  fall out of THES 200 Best Univerisities Ranking next year - like Universiti Malaysia Sains (USM) which fell out of the 200 Best Universities Ranking last year dropping  an unprecedented 215 places to 326th position  from No. 111 in 2004.


The rankings of UKM (No. 185) and UM (No. 192) in the THES 200 Best University Ranking 2006 are most precarious and perilous, as from an overall score of 100, UKM is only 1.3 points and UM 0.7 points from being knocked out of the list altogether.


The dismal international ranking of Malaysian universities should have been the No. 1 top agenda of the Cabinet last Wednesday, as it is even more important than the issue of the ASLI report  of 45% bumiputra  equity ownership in contrast to the official statistics of 18.9% - proof of the skewed and  misplaced sense of priorities of the Cabinet which former Prime Minister, Tun Dr. Mahathir Mohamad had dismissed as a “half-past six” one.


ast Sunday, I had asked the Higher Education Minister, Datuk Mustapha Mohamed why the Zahid Higher Education Report “Towards Excellence” and its 138 recommendations had been surreptitiously and  unceremoniously  cast aside and  the  total lack of transparency in setting up a “high-level committee” in his Ministry to come out with a new blueprint for tertiary education for the country.


I am still waiting for Mustapha’s answer.  I  now want to ask Mustapha whether the CPPS’s 15  recommendations on “Achieving Higher Performance in Tertiary Education” have been considered and accepted by his Ministry or whether the whole chapter on higher education has been thrown into limbo because of  the controversy and adverse reaction to the chapter on bumiputra equity ownership in the same CPPS report on “Proposals for the Ninth Malaysia Plan”.


The CPPS in its  chapter on “Achieving Higher Performance in Tertiary Education” made some significant and path-breaking proposals to restore Malaysia’s  international academic excellence, quality, standards and eminence.


A most revolutionary  recommendation is to scrap STPM and matriculation and make the SPM the basic qualifications for admission to tertiary education, with minimum scores for admission to diploma and degree programmes - together with clear criteria for transitions from diploma to degree programme.


Alternatively, it proposed an uniform university entrance examination, with eligibility open to all in their SPM year.


Coupled with this proposal is the call for the re-introduction of the four-year undergraduate degree programme to take account of “the democratization of tertiary education and the resultant lower capabilities” of the undergraduates.


These recommendations are not only feasible but very sound and sensible as it would end the present system of fraudulent meritocracy, where the STPM and matriculation are treated as equivalent when they are not, creating strong and legitimate grievances and resentments among STPM students.


Is Mustapha prepared to make a commitment to accept the   ASLI recommendation to scrap STPM and matriculation and make the SPM the basic qualification for admission to universities?


Among the key findings of the CPPS study on the state of tertiary education are:


  • Massive expansion of places in public universities marred by “significant inequities in admissions with concomitant ethnic discord”.


  • The research performance of Malaysian public universities lags behind those in neighbouring countries such as Thailand and Singapore, such as in the cutting-edge fields of biomedical and life sciences.


  • The deteriorating problem of employability of graduates of public colleges and universities, mainly due to the failure to transmit broad general skills, including language and multi-cultural skills.


Among CPPS’  15  recommendations to achieve higher performance in tertiary education are:


  • End the policy and practice of having some public tertiary institutions open to only specific ethnic groups.


  • Introduce greater competition and outreach among public tertiary institutions by decentralizing the admission process to the institutions, and tying some proportion of the funds allocated to public tertiary institutions to actual enrolled numbers.


  • Set out  clear and transparent criteria for admissions applicable to all public tertiary institutions. The criteria should primarily be based on merit but should also include a weighting for socio-economic and geographical background to compensate for socio-economic and geographic disadvantage.


  • Introduce/expand the provision of scholarships for academic excellence, to be applied to the top 5 per cent of applicants in selected fields assessed as critical to the country’s needs and future.


  • End all explicit and implicit quotas in the recruitment and promotion of faculty, as it is irrational and self-defeating to entrust the higher education of the country’s youth to any but the most qualified.


  • Revitalise the culture of collegiality in public tertiary institutions, and reverse the trend towards administrative dominance. Reintroduce an administrative culture of service to the core functions, staff and clientele of these institutions.


  • Peg starting salaries of faculty to the appropriate benchmarks within the country and where feasible, internationally.


Mustapha must accept that all Malaysians are stakeholders in the quest for quality and excellence in tertiary education because of its pivotal role to transform  the nation  into a knowledge-based economy so that Malaysia can survive and prosper in the highly competitive world of globalization. For this reason, the  Higher Education Minister, must involve all Malaysians in all stages of  higher education reform and revolution instead of continuing to operate in a very secretive,  bureaucratic and high-handed  manner in the name of turning our public universities into world-class institutions.



*  Lim Kit Siang, Parliamentary Opposition Leader, MP for Ipoh Timur & DAP Central Policy and Strategic Planning Commission Chairman

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