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Too many students?

  • The policy to drastically increase the number of bumi students over the past 50 years has given rise to our predicament today: huge fiscal deficits, preferential treatment and eroded competitiveness.

By TAY TIAN YAN
Sin Chew Daily

HUA ZONG DID an interesting survey on its member companies recently.

The question: is Mandarin proficiency (written and spoken) a prerequisite for your recruitment practice?

Of the 368 replies received, 18.1% said yes and 81.9% no.

Those put “yes” said it was a corporate functional requirement.

Overall speaking, most of the companies felt that an employee's integrity, experience, capability and attitude came more important than proficiency in Mandarin.

Unfortunately the survey did not seem to attract much attention in our society, especially among government departments and the Malay society.

We remember that our education minster Maszlee Malik had complained about some companies' Mandarin requirement being unfair to the Malays.

His statement struck a powerful resonance among most Malay leaders. Politicians on both sides of the divide and public university vice chancellor alike have been firmly backing the minister.

Such strong passion almost instantly whitewashed all the irregularities related to the matriculation intake quota, and has further entrenched the Malays' belief that they have been discriminated in the job market for not being able to understand the Chinese language.

The Hua Zong survey nevertheless showed that the actual situation is not necessarily so. 82% of its member companies said they had not set such a hiring requirement while the remaining 18% said they did this out of necessity.

Sure enough Hua Zong's members are local Chinese businesses. Even most Chinese businesses have not set this hiring requirement, let alone Malay companies, GLCs and multinationals.

Drawing a bad conclusion and hence a flawed policy based on one's misguided presumption is bound to incur a lot of big problems.

IT'S UNDENIABLE THAT the unemployment rate among Malay graduates is higher than Chinese graduates.

A survey conducted last year showed that 97% UTAR graduates managed to find a job within six months, while under 70% of graduates from public universities did so.

Another government statistics showed that there were far more unemployed Malay youths who were university graduates than those with primary or secondary school qualifications.

From this we can draw the following deductions:

1. We have indeed way too many Malay university students.

2. Some of the Malay graduates simply do not meet the expectations of local companies.

There is a direct correlation between these two: an excessive number of students is poised to leave an effect on the quality of the students, and this is true universally.

The government has been putting a lot of effort to enhance the bumi education since the launch of the New Economic Policy in the 1970s.

In principle there is nothing wrong to boost the competitiveness and quality of bumi students through education.

The real question lies with the myth of NEP that the more bumi students gain access to local universities, the higher their education level and competitiveness will be.

So, the government has been producing bumi graduates in large quantities through a variety of channels such as UiTM, university admission quota, oversea sponsorship, matriculation and foundation program, among others.

Mara alone has created more than a million bumi graduates. The total number could be millions if we include also those from public universities and government-sponsored oversea students.

A survey conducted by UM's Faculty of Economics and Administration showed that 29.9% of Malay employees had university qualifications wile only 25.1% of Chinese employees were university graduates.

The government has dumped in enormous resources to create additional bumi student enrollment since the introduction of NEP, making it very easy, or even too easy, to get into local government universities.

Given such a low threshold, the quality of students is hardly guaranteed.

As a consequence, bumi graduates face the serious eventuality of joblessness or below par salaries.

Meanwhile, the government's over-investment in tertiary education has strained the national coffers.

To help put bumi graduates in the job market, the government is obliged to expand the public service workforce, putting more financial burden on the government in so doing.

THE POLICY TO to drastically increase the number of bumi university students over the past 50 years has given rise to our predicament today, including huge fiscal deficits, preferential treatment and eroded competitiveness.

Put it this way, not everyone is suited to go to the university, and university graduates are not the only persons who can contribute positively towards the society.

There are better ways to lift the education quality and competitiveness of bumi students other than putting them in a university.

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