PENANG: Malaysian Education Minister Maszlee Malik has drawn flak from both sides of the political divide for his comments linking the racial quota for pre-university admission to “employment discrimination” against bumiputras.
Dr Maszlee reportedly said at a town hall session at Universiti Sains Malaysia on Thursday (May 16) that removing the racial quota for the matriculation programme would only be considered when bumiputras are no longer turned away at job interviews for not being able to speak Mandarin.
His remarks did not go down well with other politicians, including his Pakatan Harapan colleagues.
On Facebook, Selangor executive councillor and Democratic Action Party (DAP) veteran Teng Chang Khim commented: “If the Education Minister really did say so, then he surely is foolish. What an idiot!”
Penang Deputy Chief Minister P Ramasamy also took Dr Maszlee to task for thinking along racial lines. “What is the difference between him and United Malays National Organisation (UMNO) politicians?” he said in a statement.
“He is saying as long as the private sector, in other words, Chinese employers, are recruiting on the basis of knowledge of Mandarin, then the government will maintain the present matriculation quota,” said the DAP politician.
Dr Ramasamy questioned Dr Maszlee’s motive in raising the issue, asking if he was seeking to “score political points in a predominantly Malay crowd”.
The pre-university matriculation programme was rolled out in 1998 to create more opportunities for bumiputras to seek higher education in science, technology and applied arts.
Ten per cent of the seats were subsequently allocated to non-bumiputras in 2003, hence putting in place the 90:10 ethnic quota. Every intake has 25,000 students.
Last month, Dr Maszlee announced that the programme would be expanded to accommodate 40,000 students, with the racial quota remaining in place.
This meant that while an additional 1,500 seats were created for non-bumiputra students (bringing the total to 4,000), seats reserved for bumiputra students jumped by 13,500 to 36,000.
His announcement ignited a fresh round of debate on meritocracy and affirmative action in Malaysia.
In the Thursday town hall session, Dr Maszlee said the matriculation programme was put in place to balance the ratio of bumiputra and non-bumiputra students in public universities.
“Non-bumiputra students come from rich families; they attend tuition classes and obtain good grades. Bumiputra students, including those originating from B40 (bottom 40 per cent) families in East Malaysia, do not go for tuition,” he was quoted as saying.
Meanwhile, Ms Saw Yee Fung – a spokesperson of opposition Malaysian Chinese Association – said she was puzzled by the link between ethnic quota and bumiputras’ command of the Chinese language.
“If we want to enhance the employability of university graduates, shouldn’t we strengthen educational training instead of looking at the issue from a racial perspective?” she said.
HIGHER EDUCATION FUND CORPORATION TO CLARIFY REINSTATING TRAVEL BAN FOR DEFAULTERS
On a separate issue, Dr Maszlee said on Friday that the National Higher Education Fund Corporation (PTPTN) has to clear the air over reintroducing travel ban for loan defaulters.
Its chairman Wan Saiful Wan Jan had said a day earlier that it would propose to bring back the ban if the people agree to it, when launching an online public consultation to collect ideas for a new repayment scheme and measures to improve PTPTN’s sustainability.
PTPTN was founded in 1997 with the aim of assisting students with funding their undergraduate degrees. However, it has struggled with loan defaults.
PH, in the last general election, promised to abolish the blacklisting policy, which saw about a million defaulters barred from travelling overseas.
Dr Maszlee noted that the idea to reintroduce the travel ban did not come from PTPTN, but was made during a public consultation session.
“It was not their idea, but when media asked him (Wan Saiful) about it, his answer implied so. In my opinion, PTPTN should explain to the media so that such misunderstandings do not occur,” he said.