A call for transparency in Malaysian universities

It is ironic that on the one hand, Malaysia spends millions to attract its talented people to return home, but on the other hand, denies some of its brightest students the courses and universities of their choice.

This annual season of silliness will only force high-performing students to look elsewhere to further their studies.

One obvious benefactor is Singapore, which offers Malaysian students scholarships, living allowances and an attractive multi- cultural environment to study in. Eventually, after graduation, jobs are offered too.

The Malaysian Chinese Association (MCA) and Malaysian Indian Congress (MIC) have kicked up a storm, and rightly so, over the drop in placements. The government has said a decision is pending.

But why deny Malaysia's top students the courses of their choice in the first place? Why allow this mockery to take place year in, year out?

Why put them through this harrowing experience, which must surely test the limits of their love for their country.

The MCA, in particular, wants to know why there is a low intake of Chinese students - 7,913 successful applicants out of 41,573 for 20 public universities this year.

Its education bureau chairman, Dr Wee Ka Siong, revealed shocking figures that show Malaysian Chinese students intake at a mere 19 per cent of the total for the new academic term.

In previous years and since meritocracy in the university intake was introduced from 2002, the Chinese student intake had not dropped below 25 per cent.

Apart from the ethnic Chinese students, there were 30,903 bumiputeras (Malays and indigenous groups), 1,824 Indians and 933 other races that made up the total number of successful applicants.

This state of affairs is completely unacceptable. It is unfair, and bright, young students should not be put through this.

Some students with a full cumulative grade point average, or CGPA, of 4.0 were not only denied courses of their choice, but also places in universities. They had selected medicine, pharmacy and dentistry as their top choices, followed by accountancy and engineering.

As for the 19 per cent of successful Chinese students, many are not happy with the courses they were given.

It was to avoid this unhappy situation that the government implemented a meritocracy policy in 2002. Subsequently, the Chinese student intake had always been above 20 per cent, whereas the Indians averaged 9 per cent.

These students are a talent pool that would do the nation proud in years to come.

Even Dr Wee expressed worry that Singapore would be the main beneficiary of this annual intake mess in Malaysian universities.

The government has to play an annual balancing game, practising meritocracy while giving the underprivileged a chance at high-value courses.

We are not against social engineering, but these efforts at giving the underprivileged a chance should not cost us in terms of meritocracy.

Some of the students are poor and underprivileged and hope to use education as a ladder to climb out of poverty.

They have put in years of hard work, poring over textbooks, going for tuition and preparing for the big STPM (pre-university) examination.

At the end of the day, they hope to secure a course of study of their choice and even a university of their choice.

In this respect, the government should do everything possible to ensure that the selection process is transparent and accountable.

Currently, the selection process for the 20 public universities is opaque. We don't know how and who select the students or the qualifying criteria.

We are just told that the students are judged based on their examination results (90 per cent) and extra-curricular activities (10 per cent).

The onus lies with the government to explain the record low number of seats given to Chinese and Indian students in the new intake for public universities.

There is no point dredging the world for Malaysian talent and spending money to urge them to return while allowing our young and bright, at the same time, to go without a university education, especially when Malaysia's neighbours are looking out for talented Malaysian youth.

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