Ramasamy: “Government needs to re-examine university admission mechanisms”

PENANG DAP deputy chairman Prof Dr P. Ramasamy has raised an interesting question when he recently asked about the best form of admission to pre-university and university programmes.

More specifically, he wanted to know if the admissions should be based solely on merit, or if they should be based on a combination of merit and affirmative action principle.

According to Ramasamy, the principle of affirmative action is advocated in societies where numerically small groups or minorities are displaced by the majoritarian communities.

Whether in employment or in admission to universities, socio-economic consideration is given to address the plight of displaced groups.

The whole idea behind this principle is that it provides – to some extent – a “level playing field” for entry to students from poorer and socio-economically disadvantaged groups or communities and for those disadvantaged in terms of ethnicity, religion or gender.

In the case of Malaysia’s admission policy, Ramasamy opined that in the larger interest of the society especially in addressing class and other forms of sociology-economic gaps, a good admission policy should be based on a combination of both elements.

The former Penang deputy chief minister further noted that the quota for Bumiputera in admission to matriculation and university programmes seems debatable whether they are based on affirmative action principle.

“When it comes to Malaysia, placing a 90% quota for Bumiputera students for entry into the pre-university matriculation programme seems to be source of grievances among the non-Malay students,” he observed.

“It is not that the 90% admission quota does not address the affirmative action principle, but the admission is overwhelmingly weighted in favour of the majoritarian ethnic group, namely the Bumiputra.”

Ramasamy said this is the source of grievance and unhappiness among non-Malay students who had achieved excellent results in their SPM examinations but were denied admission to pre-university programmes.

“Sure, just like the Bumiputera, there exists class and socio-economic differences among the non-Malays as well. But I am not sure whether the present admission system gives equal weight to non-Malays from disadvantaged socio-economic group,” he noted.

“The whole admission system to the matriculation programme seems to pit the Bumiputera against the non-Malays. Affirmative action principle might be present, but it pales in comparison to the primacy of ethnicity.”

He went on to point out that the admission into universities, matriculation programmes and employment in the public sector seems to be determined by ethnic condition rather than the affirmative action principle.

“Although admission is defended and justified on the basis of affirmative action principle, but its central role might be questioned,” Ramasamy acknowledged, adding that while the principles are there, they are submerged under the weight of ethnicity.

“Political expediency cannot be used as the reason to justify the present admission to pre-university programmes and to universities in general.

“The government has to come up with an admission programme that provides a clever and imaginative combination of merit and sociology-economic considerations.”

But this does not mean merit is abandoned; rather, new questions arise about how to combine the existing system based on meritocracy with merit.

In pointing out that the present admissions system needs a “relook and improvement”, Ramasamy said while the political expediency might not predispose the government to tinker with the present admission policy, surely the government must admit that at some point in time there is need to improve the admission policy to matriculation and universities.

Citing the recent gathering of students with Prime Minister Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim where a young Indian woman had raised the question of admission to the matriculation programme, Ramasamy said rather than being defensive, Anwar should have said that the government will continuously look at the system by improving it.

“Whatever said and done, despite the needs of political expediency, like other systems in the country, the admission system needs to be improved without losing sight of class or socio-economic considerations,” he noted. – Aug 7, 2023


Main pic credit: Malay Mail

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