Wednesday, July 17, 2013

The State of Malaysian Tertiary Education

Education is very important, and I believe anyone who possesses the right mind knows that. Even animals know the significance of education--they educate their young to hunt, to evade, to forage, and to survive. Education shapes the character, intellect, altruism, and etiquette of a person. Article 26 in The Universal Declaration of Human Rights states that:

(1) Everyone has the right to education. Education shall be free, at least in the elementary and fundamental stages. Elementary education shall be compulsory. Technical and professional education shall be made generally available and higher education shall be equally accessible to all on the basis of merit

(2) Education shall be directed to the full development of the human personality and to the strengthening of respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms. It shall promote understanding, tolerance and friendship among all nations, racial or religious groups, and shall further the activities of the United Nations for the maintenance of peace. 

(3) Parents have a prior right to choose the kind of education that shall be given to their children.

Sadly to say, the tertiary education in Malaysia is not exactly accessible to all on the basis of merit-- instead, it is full of controversy and irony, and apparently the Ministry of Higher Education (MOHE) like to shoot themselves in the foot.
Every year during the university enrollment season, we could hear cries of disappointment and chants of foul-play in the MOHE's decision from candidates who had acquired a full 4.0 CGPA but were rejected of a place in local university. It is happening so often to so many people it's not fortuitous anymore.

There are currently 20 public universities in Malaysia. A student is allowed to choose 8 universities on the enrollment form, and the choices will then be reviewed by the universities and MOHE. In order to nail popular courses such as medicine and engineering, one has to acquire a full CGPA 4.0. Other courses are less stringent and therefore require only a minimum of 2.0. It is therefore quite impossible for a 4.0 CGPA student (there are only a few of them anyway, not everyone is good enough to get straight A's) to get rejected by all 8 universities of his/her choice. But it happens.

According to a report by an anonymous father who declined to be named for fear of retribution, his daughter who had acquired a 3.8 CGPA had failed to get into “not only UM but also other public universities as well.”

According to the father, his daughter’s application was rejected because her name sounded “foreign and Christian”. 
He further claimed that the Education Ministry officer also told them that being a Christian-bumi could be another reason for her not being selected. The ministry official had also indicated that the fact that his daughter was born in Petaling Jaya and not in Sabah was also a reason she was rejected from getting medical course.

Now this is what got me boiling with rage. Rejection based on name and religion?
The discrimination is getting out of hand, and the MOHE is obviously losing its intellectual and ethical senses. How can anyone reject a fully qualified candidate just because the candidate's name sounds like a foreigner's? Is there no indication of nationality in the enrollment form? Moreover, rejecting the candidate because he/she embraces a different religion is utterly disgraceful. Don't get me wrong, I do not believe in the presence of an omnipotent invisible man, but the discrimination is downright appalling and bears an uncanny resemblance to the South African apartheid. In fact, this has also violated Article 11 of the Malaysian Constitution which provides that every person has the right to profess and to practice his or her religion.

Some reported that the Barisan National  government is plotting a revenge against the chinese community for the disappointing results during the 13th General Election. Some said that there are not enough places for Malaysian in local universities due to the foreign-student-comes-first policy--a policy that aims to attract more foreign student into Malaysian universities in an effort to improve the world ranking of local universities. Some said that it is a racial thing. Well, I know it definitely happened to my chinese friends, and I've heard it happened to Indians and bumi friends as well. So I googled "malaysia student 4.0 rejected university accepted" and "malaysia pelajar 4.0 ditolak universiti diterima".

So is this a racial thing? I'll let you be the judge. I have not thought of it as so until someone suggested it. And by the way I'm just stating the obvious.

I believe the biggest problem lies within the system itself--there is simply no clear protocol for choosing the right candidate for entering university. The MOHE has pledged to conduct the selection transparently purely based on meritocracy. Then why are we still hearing complaints about the omission of eligible students and the inclusion of inferior students? If the selection is arbitrary, why waste time staging the frivolous theater of choosing and selecting?

These 4.0 students represent the future of our country. They emanate endless energy and imagination, and they are the ones who can propel the country forward. Rejecting these bright sparks of a place in local university will force them to seek opportunity elsewhere, and if this happened the biggest loser would be Malaysia--we'll be losing their intelligence, their ideas, their publication, their service, and in some extreme cases, their loyalty. And no, they have not much to lose except for a couple of financial sacrifices because there are plenty of countries that are willing to host these vibrant, energetic, skillful immigrants.

We should not let these vigorous young blood to slip out of our hands. The seemingly imperishable wall of ludicrous excuses and criteria needs to be taken down immediately. And all the while our universities are busy recruiting international students who could barely speak English (seriously TOEFL 7.0?), let alone write and publish a good journal paper. Where's the stop-the-brain-drain thing launched by our beloved prime minister?

I have been trying for the past several years to convince friends and family that Malaysia is indeed a wonderful country to live in, if you can excuse the politics and the inconsistent MOE and MOHE.



  1. Even though you get in these universities, the quality of education here is quite skeptical. Academicians here most do not know how to teach and yet still manage to bluff in front of students. Try to think this way, good students who are rejected are better off to other place with better education QUALITY or else they will feel regretful.

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