Sunday, April 20, 2008


A popular Malaysian blogger, Ong Kian Ming (soon to be Dr. Ong Kian Ming) who writes regularly for Malaysiakini and enquired about the SLAB/SLAI programs. This was my reply to him, which i will share with you all.

SLAB/SLAI: A World Of A Difference

Dear Kian Ming,

Sorry for the late reply.

The link that you attached was not accessible.

Nevertheless, the SLAI program is something recent. UM did not have such a program, at least not when I left UM in 2005. In theory, the SLAI and SLAB programs are both equal and identical.

In practice however, there are marked differences between the two.

A reasonable analogy will be like how the Ministry of Higher Education claims to practise meritocracy in theory but puts in place a very devious mechanism to ensure the continued dominance of the bumiputra Malays.

By its name, it may appear that SLAB is a program that caters to all bumiputras – both Muslims and non-Muslims, Malay and non-Malay bumiputras. A close friend of mine, a Kadazan bumiputra once met up with a senior professor of Universiti Malaya to enquire about her eligibility for the SLAB program and how she can go about applying for the scheme. The senior professor of Public Health, who was also the then Deputy Dean of the Medical Faculty gave a very nebulous answer but essentially told this friend of mine that non-Muslim bumiputras are basically not eligible for the trainee lecturers’ program. I was there personally so my eye-witness account is essentially all I can offer you as solid evidence that the SLAB program itself is a mere smokescreen to ensure Malay supremacy among the academic ranks.

The SLAI program is really something else. It stands for Skim Latihan Akademic IPTA (Institut Pengajian Tinggi Awam). There are no ethnic criteria attached to it but in view that the bumiputras already have SLAB to cater to them, you are very correct to assume that SLAI is therefore in existence to cater for the non-bumiputras.

If at all the SLAI and SLAB programs can ever be comparable to each other, I can only say that both does not emphasize on meritocracy. The few non-bumiputras I know who are currently in the SLAI program were not among the top students in their classes. Apart from that, the terms and conditions after one successfully completes one’s studies under the SLAB/SLAI programs are similar.

This is perhaps where their similarity ends. On closer scrutiny , one can see great discriminative practices between the two programs.

I am only covering the medical fraternity as I do not want to make any misleading statements that may not be true for other fields of knowledge.

For starters, the SLAI program for non-bumiputras or rather non-Malays, are open to all specialties in theory but greatly constrictive in practice. Competitive disciplines and specialties in high demand are very much closed to non-Malays. These include opthalmology, otorhinolaryngology, orthopaedics, general surgery, anaesthesiology, radiology, obstetrics and gynaecology. Non-Malays keen to pursue SLAI training will have to contend with non-clinical fields like the basic sciences (physiology, biochemistry, anatomy), public health, or less competitive clinical disciplines like internal medicine. This is in stark contrast to the overwhelming presence of bumiputra Malays in the SLAB programs for the aforementioned hugely popular surgical disciplines.

The number of successful SLAI candidates pale in comparison to the number of SLAB trainees. If you are interested, you can view the individual departments’ academic staff and compare the number of SLAB to SLAI lecturers currently in the Faculty of Medicine, University of Malaya. This is the link. Assuming the website is updated (it is not!), there are only three non-bumis currently pursuing an academic program under SLAI. The ratio of SLAI:SLAB candidates is therefore easily 1:10. As such, I can’t see how anyone can portray the SLAI program as equal and equivalent to SLAB.

The process of applying for SLAI is also more rigid and stringent. Conversely, there have been many instances where the bumiputra doctors who never even applied for a SLAB placement were simply given an offer to pursue SLAB. More often than not in fact, the bumiputra Malays are given the luxury to take their pick from a few disciplines. One Malay colleague of mine wsa invited to choose between internal medicine, orthopaedics and obstetrics and gynaecology! Such privileges are of course not accorded to the SLAI candidates, who must decide on what they want to pursue when applying for the training program.

As with most other government schemes in Malaysia, the process of entering these academic programs is littered with political elements. Once again, I’m using Universiti Malaya as an example. There is an uncanny overwhelming presence of royalties among the SLAB lecturers and trainee lecturers. We can see this clearly in the departments of orthopaedics, otorhinolaryngology and ophthalmology. The number of academics with preceding Tengku-s is really a cause for suspicion. In addition, there is a great element of family business as well. The daughter and son-in-law of UM’s ex-vice chancellor, Professor Annuar Zaini are both in the SLAB programs of paediatrics and general surgery respectively. As far as the academic records are concerned, they were both merely average students while they were pursuing their basic degrees in UM. A father and daughter team is also currently in the Department of Social and Preventive Medicine. There is nothing improper about any father-daughter team except for the fact that the Professor himself was also the person who processed his daughter's application papers. It is not unlike the corrupt practices of late Zakaria Mat Deros. Sons and daughters of Datuks and other UMNO cronies are also abundant in the SLAB program. The SLAB program is thus one that is lacking in transparency.

I am not sure if there is any solid method to substantiate these allegations except through my personal daily observations and ground knowledge.

A great number of SLAB graduates are currently holding influential positions within the faculty. Generally, their privileges extend beyond the completion of the SLAB program. Some have been promoted to head of departments and professorships, bypassing more experienced and competent lecturers. Most of these SLAB graduates went on to pursue further training overseas on a university scholarship, at the expense of other non-bumi lecturers that joined the academic ranks by merit. This is also the major factor behind the resignation of many non-Malay academics from the university. It remains to be seen whether the privileges of further training and education will be accorded to the SLAI candidates.

My personal opinion about the SLAI program is that it is in reality a sly move by the Higher Education Ministry to appear meritocratic while resuming their racist means of managing Malaysian tertiary education.

I hope I have shed some light on your enquiries about the SLAB/SLAI programs.



jj said...

from your comments it seems that very much easy for the bumi's to get into the SLAB is not easy as you thought. 2 of my seniors from sandakan did not get a place into the SLAB programme (general surgery and O and G). for general surgery instance, she needs to pass the entrance exam, then she will be called for an interview. 1 of my senior from tawau give up applying the SLAB programme for O and G after she's been applying it for 4 years. currently, she is doing public heatlh. it seems the bumi's are competing each other and not all bumis like me want to join SLAB programme.

Product of the System said...

Dear JJ,

Thanks for reading and for your comment.

Perhaps i failed to clearly highlight in my article that the SLAB program is one that non-transparent and unjust to both bumiputeras and non-bumiputeras.

As i have mentioned, there is much political clout attached to the SLAB program to make it a genuine academic progam that uplifts the standards of higher education in Malaysia.

Well-connnected Malay bumiputras with UMNO ties have generally benefited from the SLAB progam.

Nevertheless, apolitical bumiputras like yourself (and i'm only making an assumption here) are still at a leverage compared to the other non-Malays.

I stand by my statements that SLAB offers have been offered to Malays who never even applied for it in the first place.

Thank you.

CK Tan said...

thanks for the revelation, both POTS and jj.

it's nothing new now with UhMnoputras doing everything to benefit their own families and robbed the others (bumi and non-bumi alike) from their deserving chances.

Anonymous said...

I've heard that some malay housemans were being offered slab programs even without ever applying them. Not one but three, for them to choose. This is totally unfair! Their works are not impressive, some i heard were not good at all even when they were students.

Imagine having a lecturer that flunk exams during their medical school. How ah? What examples they are going to give to our young future doctors?

It's scary to know this.

the cili padi doctor @ Lynette said...

this year, I qualify to apply for entry into the Master of Surgery programme in UM. However, I am so discouraged when I heard that some ppl more junior than me are already in the prog earlier on.

I dunno whether I can get in or not although I am one of the top students in UM. Why? I m not politically-connected and most of the lecturers I know have left the department while the ones I am closest to are in Dept of Paeds and Internal Medicine.

Although I have served in the district for many years and competed in competitions, we have to compete for at least 200 over candidates for the meagre 20 spots in Master of Surgery in each uni (maybe the total of 60 spaces in all the Malaysian medical schools). Some of the candidates are more senior and experienced than me.

I feel so sad when I hear of the UMNOputras and royalties taking up so many training places. Why do they wanna compete with us mere mortals when they have the finance and connections to easily train elsewhere?

I'll update you on how my application goes..anyway, keep on writing and exposing more crappy events happening in our nation.

dytia said...

"Well-connnected Malay bumiputras with UMNO ties have generally benefited from the SLAB progam. "

You can say that again. <--- SLAB applicant here.. quite embittered as she just discover a houseman whom just finished 1 year housemanship was offered for MASTERS!!!and a much experienced colleague was passed over for the spot.

also I rue the day they derecognise MRCP as I can see only that as my way to do specialisation.

Alan said...

I personally think one should not be upset or over-sensitive about the SLAB/SLAI programme, if one's sole intention is just to be a specialist and not an academician. You don't have to sour all the time just because this is one of the many things that favours the people of the soil.

These programmes are just to ensure that there is a continuous supply of teaching staff in the medical fraternity. The disadvantage is that they favour the Malays, that's all.

Why must we be upset because someone younger gets into a Masters programme before us? Isn't that sheer arrogance? And it just boils down to the fact that doctors are egoistic people, thinking that they are the smartest people in the whole wide world, always right in whatever they do. Little did they know that they are in fact one of the least smartest people around.

Who says this world is built on fairness and equality anyway?

Anonymous said...

slai recipient here.

remember when the quota for uni was 60% bumi, and 40% BUMI and everyone else? same thing. slab is bumi only, slai is bumi and everyone else. and from what i have seen, 'everyone else' is a very small part of that figure. or maybe i should say, 'non-malay' is a very small part of that figure.

slab is for masters and phd, slai is for phd only. and since slai is under rmk9, it's possible it will be discontinued shortly and then we will just have slab again. that would be a slab in the face, but at least it wouldn't be so slai.

tengkucougar said...

One should remember as well , those who passed their MRCP / MRCPCH / MRCS etc and now working as Clinical Specialists all around Malaysia are not all top students during their undergraduate years. In fact , there are those who excelled in their MBBS but failed miserably or undertook multiple attempts in post graduate qualification. It is common to BOTH the bumi or non bumis. You can check this directly with them..

SLAB or SLAI , these candidates still have to pass their post graduate exams . No matter how anyone holds any conspiracy theory ; I believe the depts ( ESP IN UM ) have their own standard in passing the new Specialists. The two UM SLAB cronies you mentioned passed their part 1 the first time around ; and now sitting their finals. I don't reckon they cheated and credit should be given for what they deserved.

I will circulate your entry in UM Medical Faculty. Lets see what their response will be.

tengkucougar said...

Lets see if what i mentioned above censored or not by the owner.

Product of the System said...

Dear TENGKU, and I address you as such because you appear to take much pride in your rightful title.

I have never made any mention that top MBBS students always end up as top specialists or the other way around - that the top specialists were top MBBS students in their time. The posting was on the SLAB/SLAI program nd the core issue is the lack of meritocracy and transparency in the selection of these candidates.

When will we learn to stop "having our own Malaysian standards"?

A neutral party reading your comment might be forgiven for mistaking you for an UMNO information dissemination official.

It's always "our own mould of democracy", "our own ould of meritocracy" and "our own mould of press freedom".

When will Malaysia learn to adopt something objective and global, as opposed to Najib's glocal?

I have no idea which "two UMNO cronies" you're talking about, because the ones i know are only in their first year of masters training and have not even sat for their preliminary examinations.

I guess, the fact that you even mentioned these two supposed UMNO cronies only lends credence to my allegations that the SLAB program benefits UMNO goons more than it benefits the general Malay doctor.

For that, i thank you.

You can distribute my article for all of UM to read and criticize all you want. Just don't do so with a seemingly threatening tone.

Lastly, i thank you for reading and above all giving me and all the readers here an alternative view and with much civility, as opposed to the name-calling, racist-remarks i get from the UMNO cybertroopers.

MBBS 2000/2005

Product of the System said...

Dear Anonymous/SLAI Receipient,

As i have mentioned, my article must be read in the context of the medical profession only.

I do not know about the SLAI program in other faculties, but as for the medical faculty, the SLAI program is indeed open to non-bumis to pursue their masters program.

Anonymous said...

About 25 years ago, a numbers my friends left government medical services because of unequal opportunity and the treatment they got from the system. Instead of focusing on creating equal opportunity and let the best lead, so that Malaysia can compete globally, the focus is on who is getting a bigger share of the country's wealth.
Malaysia is fortunate to have natural resources; oil,timber etc, it is much easier to gain wealth by being well connected and get the payout from stripping the land. However, what will happen to Malaysia when we run out of those natural resources?
Malaysia has to go through a lot of pain and lost opportunities before it changes, you are counting on the people who benefit the most from the unequal system to change the system. I just hope tomorrow's Malaysia is not today's Indonesia.
I share your pain, unless you find a way out, the pain will continue for you and your future generations. Changing people's mind set is one of the hardest tasks.


Anonymous said...

thanks for another website that has the anti-malay sentiments. i do not know how do u able to put on a label against someonone as 'not so brilliant' and 'politically-connected' person.

next time, get ur facts correct.

if it is true the government is doing this, i totally understand why.

just look at singapore.see how the cruel PAP government sidelined the malays systematically.

so i think, we did this on 'tit-for-tat' basis'. except that, the govt still scholarship to other races. but, never dream that in singapore.

meritocracy ala kuan yew. my foot!

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