This article intends to inform and reveal statistics as they really are.
I have divided the intake of students into the MBBS program by ethnicity and route of entry.
A Background Introduction
Entering the Faculty of Medicine, University Malaya, Kuala Lumpur is still the prized aspiration of many doctor-wannabes. The medical degree conferred by UM is the Bachelor of Medicine, Bachelor of Surgery (MBBS) which is the title awarded by universities in the United Kingdom and Australia. Other local public universities like University Kebangsaan Malaysia (UKM) and Universiti Sains Malaysia (USM) confer medical degrees in the acronym of MD which stands for doctor of medicine (Latin: Medicinæ Doctor).
Contrary to the common but erroneous perception among pre-university students, there is no difference between the MBBS and MD medical degrees.
Up till 2001, University Malaya along with other local universities practised an intake of medical students based on a quota system. Under the quota system, the ratio of medical students was in the order of 6:3:1 that is, 60% of places for bumiputeras, 30% for Chinese Malaysians and 10% for Indian Malaysian students. Bumiputera students comprised both Malays and the non-Malay bumiputeras from Sabah and Sarawak.
From 2002 onwards, the UMNO government introduced a system of ‘meritocracy’ whereby the intake of students into local universities was based solely on academic achievement without regards to co-curricular activities and ethnic background. Conventionally, bumiputera students took matriculation as the pre-university examinations while the non-bumiputeras took the STPM/Sixth Form examinations. There are occasional exceptions though these are rare. Some Malay students do take the STPM route and vice versa.
As of 2004, the non-bumiputera Chinese and Indians students were allocated 10% of the total matriculation seats. This was the beginning of a new era in the local universities especially for the most competitive courses. Beginning 2004, the majority of non-bumiputera students entering courses like medicine, pharmacy, dentistry and engineering courses were from matriculation background.
In addition, from 2001-2003, University of Malaya accepted additional students from the Royal College of Medicine Perak (RCMP) in a supposed and controversial twinning program between the two institutions. The number of RCMP students taken in between 2001-2003 numbered 13, 60 and 90 respectively. These comprised mostly bumiputera Malay students. Upon graduation, these students were conferred a medical degree indistinguishable from the degree awarded to ‘genuine’ University of Malaya medical students.
This article intends to inform and reveal statistics as they really are. The numbers quoted do not include students accepted into the faculty from the Royal College of Medicine Perak.
I have divided the intake of students into the MBBS program by ethnicity and route of entry.
Schools of Thought
You are at liberty to draw your own conclusions by studying the charts and tables.
In order to facilitate thinking however, I have arbitrarily chosen three different points of view.
From a Racist Angle
The pre-‘meritocracy’ era ensure a minimum number of students from each major ethnic group. The bumiputeras made up 60% of the total intake, from which usually about 15 were composed of non-Malay bumiputeras from Sabah/Sarawak. As seen from the charts, their numbers have dwindled from a pathetic 9% to a miserable 1% under the current so-called meritocracy system.
Indian Malaysians used to form 10% of the student population under the quota system, numbering around 15-18 depending on the total annual intake. In 2003, Indian Malaysian students were left in a quandary when they had but one solitary representative in the medical faculty of University Malaya. Since then however, their numbers have somehow reached a figure comparable to that under the quota system. Their absolute number may not have slid much, but the percentage has decreased remarkably. HINDRAF apologists should take note of this.
The supposedly marginalized Chinese Malaysians have the least to be dissatisfied over. From a mere 30% representation under the quota system, they have increased in both absolute numbers as well as percentage, forming about 40-50% of the annual student intake. This came at a costly price though, as most of these Chinese students were from matriculation background. The Chinese students from STPM background can never compete with the matriculation students despite attaining excellent results.
If ethnicity is the sole issue here, the non-Malay bumiputeras from Sabah and Sarawak are the biggest losers among the races in meritocracy Malaysian style. Chinese Malaysians should zip up and continue throwing their support behind the beggar political party named MCA so that the MCA can continue their boot-licking heritage to beg and plead for the crumbs falling from UMNO’s golden platter.
It should not be forgotten that from 2001-2003, the Ministry of Education admitted additional Malay bumiputera students into the MBBS course via a backdoor named the Royal College of Medicine Perak. The official reported figures therefore do not reflect the actual student composition seated in the lecture halls of University Malaya Medical Faculty. When these RCMP students are added to the total student intake, the non-Malays student population in both absolute number and percentage falls to a very low figure indeed.
Do the maths yourself.
From an Academic Perspective
The essence of meritocracy is remarkably similar to Darwin’s ‘survival of the fittest’.
The pre-2002 quota system was a very flawed one.
Ethnicity was a very crucial criterion for acceptance into university, medical school included. Merit took second place and thus compromised the selection of students into every discipline. Universities had little or no autonomy as the selection of students was decided by the Unit Pusat Universiti (UPU), an institution under the Ministry of Education.
Academic achievements in national exams accounted for 90% of the points for entry into university while co-curricular achievements the remaining 10%. Many a time, students are tied in terms of academic achievements. The final deciding factor therefore was one’s co-curricular achievements. However, students are not required to submit their certified documents in order to support their claims of any grandiose extra-curricular activities.
The current system of meritocracy is no better and in fact worse. Since its introduction in 2002, the evaluation methodology has undergone such frequent changes that no one knows for sure what measures are employed to gauge students’ qualification into local universities.
Converting one’s STPM grades into a cumulative grade point average (CGPA) as practised for matriculation students is like trying to smell the color 9. It is not possible, not intelligent and is basically an effort of make-believe only. The two pre-university examinations are different in syllabus, level of difficulty, and criteria for final assessment.
The odds are heavily stacked against STPM candidates and therefore directly non-bumiputera students. Comparing STPM with matriculation results has resulted in the drastic drop in STPM students in competitive courses over the last five years. When the playing ground is unequal, true meritocracy and fair competition is practically impossible.
On another note, that the Faculty of Medicine, University Malaya has noticeably increased its annual intake of medical students by almost 30% over the last eight years. This is alarming in view of the limited resources in our local institutions. Like other public universities, University Malaya has lost a great number of experienced academicians over the years. Its teaching staff now comprises mostly junior lecturers who are still climbing their career ladder or themselves undergoing training under the Skim Latihan Akademik Bumiputera (SLAB) program. A great number of these SLAB lecturers have barely one year of clinical experience before joining the academic ranks. Can they be relied upon to provide quality teaching and sound guidance?
Infrastructures and facilities are also not unlimited. Laboratories that were designed to host 15 students are now cramming 25 students. The quality of teaching and learning is therefore significantly compromised. Small group teaching is almost non-existent.
Indeed, the oft repeated quantity versus quality axiom never goes stale.
More important than a student’s entry qualification is one’s performance throughout the duration of study and the quality of product upon graduation.
The entry of non-bumiputra students into matriculation and therefore university has vastly changed the university’s landscape. Non-bumiputra matriculation students now outnumber their STPM counterparts in ratio of 10:1. In the last five years, the performance of non-bumiputra students in most local universities has deteriorated remarkable, a phenomenon not previously seen commonly. Failure and dropout rates across the races have skyrocketed to alarming levels. In 2004, the first year when non-bumiputra matriculation students first entered university, the failure rates for medical students were as high as 15%. Over the years the failure rates have decreased somewhat but still significantly higher than yesteryears. One hypothesis is the lack of competition among students. Previously, weaker students were forced to measure up to the more competent ones. In a scenario where most are equally inept, there is no drive and motivation to rise beyond mediocrity.
We have yet to witness the graduating products of these students with predominant matriculation graduates. From their performance thus far in university, one cannot be labeled pessimistic for being less than hopeful.
From a Sensible Viewpoint
Malaysia doesn’t need a committee of experts and academicians to produce an expensive and much-hyped blueprint in Malaysian higher education.
It’s not rocket science, advance trigonometry or quantum physics.
At the heart of most pressing issues is political will. Where there is no will, there is no way our local institutions can lift itself out of the doldrums.
UMNO controls everything and the narcissistic UMNO mindset seeps far and wide into the upper echelons of local universities.
Selection of students may be meritocracy in rhetoric but very much race-based in practice. The ratio among the races has changed little since the inception of Malaysian meritocracy. In the background are probably unseen political forces and manipulative hands that ensure a certain distribution of races into the faculties. In short, the current meritocratic system is a quota system in disguise.
The non-Malay bumiputeras from Sabah and Sarawak have not really been marginalized in terms of university intake. They have simply opted to apply to University Malaysia Sarawak and University Malaysia Sabah for reasons that are obvious.
The university authorities are not oblivious to the radical plunge in the quality of students entering competitive courses like medicine. The apparent arrest of high failure rates beginning 2004 was not because of proactive measures taken by the universities but because the goal post has been moved and widened to allow for easier passage.
Importantly to note, an STPM or matriculation background is no guarantee of one’s performance in and beyond university. STPM students flunk examinations even in the so-called glorious days in the distant past. Similarly, matriculation students have aced assessments without the need of crutches or leaked questions.
Regardless, academic achievement in university is no reflection of one’s competency at work later on. It is however, a partial and reliable testimony of one’s attitude towards responsibilities and job commitments.
The solution to our higher education woes is not difficult actually.
The answer becomes obvious and clear when we look towards our tiny neighbour called Singapore.
Singapore stands tall among the shoulders of giants.