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Univ. Quota: National Interests Or Racial Ego?
By Kim Quek

29/5/2001 9:59 pm Tue

[Isu kuota kaum di universiti antara lain bertujuan untuk meraih sokongan orang melayu buat Umno yang sudah semakin berkurangan. Ia bercanggah dengan hasrat dan wawasan kerajaan sendiri yang mahu mewujudkan bangsa Malaysia yang mampu bersaing di peringkat global nanti.

Pelajar bukan bumiputra tidakpun menggugat pelajar bumiputra tetapi ia sering digambarkan begitu untuk menakutkan-nakutkan sahaja agar Umno dapat ditonjol sebagai juara. Padahal Umno sendiri memusnahkan minda bumiputra dengan mencengkam media. Malah Umno lebih selamat jika orang melayu tolol belaka agar ia mudah berlagak untuk menipu sepanjang masa.

Motif Umno melaung memekik tidak tentu hala itu bukan untuk kaum bumiputra sebenarnya tetapi untuk menjaga nyawa Umno yang sudah semakin tiada. Isu kuota itu hanyalah loceng untuk memanggil orang melayu agar berpaut semula kepadanya. Tetapi ais krim itu terlalu mahal untuk dibeli oleh kaum bumiputra melainkan terpaksa berhutang dan menjadi hamba sepanjang masa. Penswastaan telah memusnahkan impian hidup rakyat yang teraniaya.

Bukan untukmu bumiputra - tetapi untuk nyawa Umno sebenarnya..... - Editor]



The controversy over racial quota of university enrolment took a new turn when Prime Minister and President of UMNO Mahathir Mohamad announced (after an UMNO Supreme Council Meeting) that UMNO would undertake a new survey to ascertain the 'real' ratio of bumiputra to non-bumiputra students taking into account not only local public universities but also oversea universities and local private colleges.

Many were at first uncertain as to the real intent of this latest UMNO move. But it soon became clear when the Minister of Education Musa Mohamad announced a few days later that the application of the racial quota concept was to be expanded beyond the local public universities to encompass all institutions of tertiary education. In other words, UMNO is going to take a head count of all Malaysian tertiary education students (overseas and local, public and private) and classify their racial origin. This is to facilitate the implementation of its policy that for every X numbers of race A students, there must not be more than Y numbers of race B students. In the Malaysian context, it means non-bumiputra students must not exceed a certain percentage (stipulated by UMNO) of bumiputra students, wherever in the world they are and whatever institutions they are in.

From the trends of thoughts expounded by Mahathir and elaborated by Musa Mohamad, these top leaders and UMNO seem to be less concerned at the state of academic progress of Malay students than whether the global total of non-Malay students of higher learning exceed the proportion acceptable to them in relation to Malay students. Neither do they seem disturbed by the set back to our race against the rest of the world in nurturing our brainpower precipitated by barring thousands of high-scoring students (mostly Chinese) from entering local universities arising obviously from the abuse of the racial quota system.

This disturbing trend of development indicates that the Government has gone gravely astray on several key issues.

FIRST ISSUE: What is the purpose of the quota system?

Obvious answer is that it is to assist the bumiputras, who happen to lag in financial and academic capabilities, to gain admission to universities. In this connection, the quota system has already achieved its purpose, as the Ministry of Education had earlier announced that this year's total intake to the local universities fell short to the target of 38,000 by some 7,000 plus students, due to insufficient qualified bumiputra applicants (subsequent retraction to this statement was unconvincing, as the grounds given lack credibility).

So, how would the fact that there are more non-bumiputra than bumiputra students attending local private colleges detract from bumiputra's educational opportunity or even adversely affect their academic progress? If it would not, then why should the Minister of Education be so incensed as to vow to correct this imbalance by declaring the 'policy guideline' of bringing the racial ratio of private colleges to the official quota of 55 to 45 in favour of the bumiputras, 'in line with the Prime Minister' statement that the question of quota should not be restricted to public universities alone?

Similarly, how would large numbers of non-bumiputra students going overseas to pursue their studies be adversely affecting the bumiputra students? If it would not, then why should UMNO be so concerned as to launch a grand survey to take count of the racial composition of oversea Malaysian students?

What is the logic of this UMNO move? Is it motivated by the desire to upgrade the academic level of Malays? Or is it to satiate its racial ego thereby enhancing its political support among the Malays? The answers to these questions are obvious.

It is important to note at this junction that the overwhelming majority of non-bumiputra students studying in local private colleges and overseas universities have been forced to do so due to their non-acceptance to local public universities. Though the official quota is 55 to 45 in favour of the bumiputras, the actual quota of intake to local public universities is well in excess of 75 to 25, as evidenced from the Government MAPEN2 Report which states that in 1999, out of the total university student population of 203,675, the bumiputra to non-bumiputra ratio is 72.7% to 27.3% (though graduate ratio for the same year is 62 to 38).

The meager quota given to the non-bumiputra has forced an exodus of Chinese students to oversea universities through the twinning program provided by the local colleges. Many of these students subsequently found employment oversea, which has been a major source of brain drain to this Country for some years. Should UMNO decide to utilize its grand survey to forcibly further increase the bumiputra intake ratios in local institutions, then there will not only be an increase in such brain drain, but also an increase in brain loss, as many bright non-bumiputras will not have the opportunity to receive any tertiary education at all due to financial constraints (the ratio of government scholarships given to non-bumiputras is even much more meager than that of university intake).

Is UMNO concerned with this brain drain and brain loss? From its latest manoeuvre, UMNO seems to be more interested in racial figures than either brain drain to this Country or the academic progress of the bumiputras.

SECOND ISSUE: In the university quota issue, the Government's job is to allocate national resources, not to interfere with private endeavours. In UMNO's over-eagerness to play the racial cards, it has forgotten that the primary function of the Government is to ensure an efficient and equitable distribution of national resources, and not as a partisan in petty racial squabbles overflowing into private and individual endeavours (such as the running of private colleges or individuals going overseas to receive education). In the case of the university quota system, its duty is simply to ensure that the agreed quota is honestly implemented, keeping in mind all the time that it is an interim policy to help the bumiputra communities to catch up and upgrade their education level. And hence, top priority must be given to uplifting the academic quality of the bumiputras (particularly in science and mathematics), apart from keeping an eye on enrolment statistics.

Has the Ministry of Education identified the main causes of the underperformance of Malays in mathematics and science? What has been done to rectify this shortcoming? Where are the Ministry's annual statistics monitoring the progress or lack of progress of Malay students in these fields as well as in their general academic performance in relation to others? I am skeptical the Ministry has made substantial headway in rectifying this historical academic disadvantage of the Malays.

To make up this deficit in quality, the Ministry has obviously resorted to drastically push up the bumiputra intake to universities well beyond the agreed quota, stealthily and without authority. When the issue exploded following the rejection of 500 non-bumiputra top scorers to local universities, while there were 7000 vacancies unfilled due to the lack of qualified bumiputra applicants, the Ministry scrambled to juggle with figures and statistics to deny that such vacancies existed. In spite of repeated calls to present a detailed breakdown of the university enrolment statistics, the Ministry has failed to do so. The Ministry appears determined to hide the truth.

Into this mess comes UMNO's latest manoeuvre to even the score with non-bumiputras by calling in racial statistics in local colleges and oversea universities. So, what does UMNO propose to do with the new statistics? Stop non-bumiputra from enrolling into local private colleges until the quota of 55 to 45 is complied with in these colleges as suggested by the Minister of Education? Cap the exodus of non-bumiputras from going overseas, to ensure the overall proportion of non-bumiputra students in all tertiary institutions (local and overseas) does not 45% of the Malaysian total? Further increase bumiputra intake in local public universities beyond the current de facto level of approximately 75 to 25 to compensate for the shortfall of bumiputra students in non-local public universities? Or merely utilise the new statistics to justify the present de facto level of 75 to 25 in local universities?

Due to the abundance of local colleges and oversea institutions, any government move to deter any student on racial ground from attending any institution not funded by this Government will be totally unjustifiable. As such move a) exceeds the jurisdiction of the government which is to manage public property, b) infringes the individual's constitutional rights and c) does not enhance the educational opportunity of the bumiputras anyway. In the same vein, the government does not have any justification to use racial statistics in local private colleges or oversea institutions to lessen the admission opportunity of non-bumiputra to local public universities. The only occasion when the Government should interfere with the admission of students to private institutions is when such institutions practice racial discrimination.

THIRd ISSUE: Over-riding objective of National Education Policy to accelerate the development of brainpower.

In all the major master plans presented by the Prime Minister recently, including the Third Outline Perspective Plan (2001 - 2010) and the Eight Malaysia Plan (2001 - 2005), the Government has correctly identified the accelerated acquisition of knowledge as the key to cope with the unprecedented challenges thrown up by the IT revolution and the imminent liberalization of our market through the Asean Free Trade Area and the WTO. In recognition of the fact that the tertiary education participation level of our population lag far behind other competitors, the Government has solemnly pledged through these master plans to give the highest priority and urgency to the development of brainpower and the most effective way of achieving this is to expand and upgrade our tertiary education. While expansion can be achieved by spending more money, upgrading can only be achieved by increasing the proportion of high achievers in our student population. In this connection, the Ministry's rejection of large numbers of non-bumiputra top scorers for admissions to our universities on racial ground is a complete contradiction to the Government's avowed policy to prioritise brainpower development.

The negative UMNO response to this university quota controversy is a clear signal to all that UMNO has not changed from its old mindset formulated decades ago, when racial considerations reign supreme. As UMNO carries this rigid and outdated racist framework over into this new century of IT revolution and globalisation, with no sign of relenting but every sign of intensifying, one cannot help but to conclude that Malaysia is in for a rough ride in the days ahead.

However, from UMNO's point of view, it's own survival may rank highest, and the current university quota controversy may be perceived as another golden opportunity to recoup Malay support which it so badly needs. UMNO may also consider it a good strategy to distract the people's gathering fury over a score of its recent crimes against the Country, namely, the unjust persecution of political opponents by abusing the Internal Security Act, the continuing cruelty on Anwar Ibrahim by depriving him medical treatment of his choice, virtually dooming him to permanent disability, and the spate of massive bailout and buyout of financially sick cronies using public funds, the circumstances of which are so scandalous that they border on breach of public trust.

-Kim Quek-