Saturday, June 04, 2005

An Interesting Hypothesis

A post by Peter on his blog Competitive Malaysia on 31st May piqued my interest. His entry on the "By Product of Quota System" raised an interesting hypothesis (which he regarded as an "open secret" - though I must admit, I've never before viewed it that way).

This is a known secret among employer. Under quota system, non-bumi must excel in academic in order to gain admitting to local public university. Those who able to gain enter into local public university are top student among non-bumi... Those non-bumi who study in private institution are consider average and below average student.

Whereas top bumi student were sent to government residential school (sekolah berasrama penuh) during their secondary and would sent to overseas university after that. Those bumi student admitted to local public university are consider average or below average student.

So, the convincing evidence to the above is from a cursory empirical observation that:

They [local university Chinese graduates] are very in demand by employer [MNCs]...


... for employer, they would prefer to hire an overseas bumi graduate than a bumi graduated from a local public university.

I think there is fairly strong merit to the above observation and it deserves some attention from the authorities when making analysis of the performance differential between the bumi and non-bumi academic performance in the local universities. To a certain extent, it would have played a certain part in the persistent concern by our political masters on why the bumis tend to perform significantly poorer than the non-bumis in the local universities. Hence, it may make the apparent disparity in performance less than what it actually is. However, at the same time, if the hypothesis is true, then there is some structural issues in our higher education system which may have certain longer term negative impact on our Malaysian students - which isn't healthy for our national development and integration:

  1. Due to the above distortion, the non-bumi students in the local universities will develop an unhealthy perception among the non-bumi students (largely Chinese) that the Bumi students are largely of poor quality. As it is, I often interviewed local non-bumi graduates who are racially biased in their opinions of the bumi academic standards i.e., Bumi = poor performance. Perceptions based on the above will result in unjustified racial bias which will be entrenched in the psyche of our young Malaysians (particularly the non-bumis) during their university years.

  2. Due to the fact that a substantial portion of the top performing bumi students are provided with scholarships to study overseas, the weaker bumi students are "left behind". As a result, the top performing non-bumi students will be placed in the same cohort as the weaker bumi students. As experience in all countries that do not take into consideration racial factors shows - students of largely similar intelligence and emotive quotient will tend to "bunch" together. The natural impact of the above hypothesis will be that the non-bumis will interact pretty much largely within the non-bumi community and vice versa for the bumi students, making it even more difficult to achieve our national integration goals.

However, as the hypothesis is largely "untested", I'd hesistate to impute the exact significance of the various resulting outcomes, although I'm certain that the hypothesis definitely played a role (just not sure how much). There are several factors that comes to mind which may reduce the hypothesis' significance:

  1. There are also a significant number of "top" non-bumi secondary students who pursue their education via the local private colleges as well as at top overseas universities. Hence not all top non-bumi students are located at the local universities

  2. At the same time, not all top bumi secondary students will have the opportunity to study overseas, particularly in the post Asian financial crisis years, where even our Jabatan Perkhidmatan Awam scholarships are reduced significantly. So there are still some pretty good bumi students studying at the local universities.

From my personal experience, I've recently hired 5 bumi graduates for application developer and analyst positions, of which only 2 are from local universities (UM) and the remainder overseas. On the other hand, the number of non-bumi graduates which I've hired are largely from local universities (~80%). I'm fairly strict with my recruitment criteria, particularly (although not only) in academic performance - so I'd like to think that I've been recruiting some of the cream in the market. It's not however, large enough a statistical sampling to act as conclusive evidence for the above hypothesis. So, make of it what you will.


YT Kuah said...

Hi Tony, a very thought-provoking blog you have on Malaysia's education. It is awesome to finally read an opinion on education that is unclouded by emotional or racial bias. Good work!

Tiara said...

I'm not sure if you're supporting it or not, but I'll have to dispute the idea that non-bumis who enter private unis are of "low quality".

My sister was one of the top scorers for SPM during her time. Straight As, great extracurriculars (prefect board, president of choir, artistic talent, etc). She applied to a bunch of public unis but was not accepted to any of them.


We are Bangladeshi. Lain-lain. We don't even figure in the quotas. As it is, we're "merely" PRs, nothing special.

She did her A-Levels in Sunway, then did her Bachelors and subsequently a Ph.D. in Biochemistry in Imperial College, London.

After 10 years of being in the UK, she is now a British citizen and has no intention of returning. I was born in Malaysia and have been here my whole life, but I could only apply for citizenship now - and that also under my parents.

And hey, I've met brilliant people in private unis who may or may not have "succeeded" in standardized testing. One of my best friends is a GENIUS - intelligent, amazing musical and visual talent, great strength of character. He only had 3As for SPM. So? Everything else about him overshadowed that. And he's not the exception.

I'm in a private uni (and in this particular one) not because I couldn't enter public uni or Form 6 (I was offered a place) but because I know the atmosphere was not right for me. Form 6 and public unis would not be able to accept someone like me who is wacky, unorthodox, silly, and thinks differently; I'd have to conform to arbitary useless rules.

I have a friend who did the "public uni" route and just could not cope; everyone else thought she was akin to a sinner just because she wasn't conservative. This college, for all its faults, was really the best place for us as it encouraged diversity. You won't get that anywhere else.

Anonymous said...

Over the years I have also come to a similar conclusion with regard to bumi graduates. We noticed that the cream of the crop were sent to universities in the UK, Australia, USA and Canada (there also seems to be a link between the country they were sent to and their academic results). The second liners were then taken into the local universities and the third liners were then admitted into MARA (then still a college).

The local non-bumi grads seemed to be pretty good, and we believe they had to be as they had to fight pretty hard to get in.

However, I don't quite agree with the hypothesis about the quality of the non-bumis who studied at the local private institutions and overseas. I observed that many of these graduates are terrible (I onced interviewed an Australian graduate from my same uni; I am amazed that he was even admitted let alone graduated - makes me ashamed to be in the same alumini). I think you have hit the nail on the head in one of your previous blogs.

However, there are also many like tiara and her sister who opted not to study locally. Besides the reasons put forth by tiara, studying overseas also provides the student with a chance to learn more about different cultures and ways of life. There are those who did not mix beyond other Malaysians (or with people of the same ethnic origin)and some could not even name the prime minister of the country they studied in!


Tiara said...

Banana - I'm still local. :D Perhaps not for long though - I plan to go overseas soon, for the experience and for the atmosphere. First step is a multicountry study abroad program (US, Japan, and Europe in 19 weeks) - if I can survive that, I can survive anything. :D

Anonymous said...

Wow! Hope you have a great time learning about all these different cultures.


clk said...

This perception starts from secondary schools in M'sia where the good bumis are in residential schools ranging from MRSM, SMS, TKC, MCKK etc. The bumis in the day schools where nearly all the non-bumis study, are generally not your tier-1 students. Hence the mind-set starts developing from there.

So much for national integration in secondary schools...

Anonymous said...

CLK, could you tell us what does MRSM, SMS, TKC, MCKK stand for?

clk said...

MRSM=Maktab Rendah Sains Mara (or Mara Junior Science College)

SMS=Sekolah Menengah Sains (or Science Secondary School)

TKC=Tunku Kurshiah College

MCKK=Malay College Kuala Kangsar

The above are some of the fully residential secondary schools in M'sia; so-called the premier schools for the bumis. The first two are a chain of numerous schools throughout the Nation. Some do accept a small number of non-bumis probably around < 5%.