These colleges are “controversial” for two key reasons:
- Proponents of a “true” meritocratic system believe that the matriculation colleges provides a “loophole” in which the bumiputera students have an easier task of qualifying for university education by enrolling into the matriculation colleges. The alternative, which the bulk of the rest of the student population seeking to further their university education in Malaysia goes through, is via the two year Sijil Tinggi Pelajaran Malaysia (STPM) Form 6 programme.
By having 2 separate examination and university entry qualification, the system becomes inherently subjective, and potentially open to abuse or distortion. It has been commonly argued as well as widely perceived that the STPM programme is significantly more rigourous in academic content, more extensive in its syllabus as well as more difficult in its examinations. Not many would doubt that it is easier to score straight ‘A’s in the matriculation course compared to the STPM certification.
The unwritten rationale behind the disparity is to ensure that the bumiputeras do not then “lose out” to non-bumiputeras in the local university places, and their admission hence, “protected”.
- The matriculation colleges are controversial also in the fact that its students are almost entirely made up of Malay students. It was only in recent years that the entry requirements for matriculation colleges are “relaxed” to admit up to 10% non-bumiputera students.
Such a policy is in actual fact a racial segregation policy in our education system whereby the “elite” bumiputeras will attend the matriculation colleges while the others will take the normal STPM route. Such a policy will inevitably lead to diminished national integration amongst the students of different communities in Malaysia. Not only will it reduce interaction between the communities, it strongly encourages dissatisfaction, polarisation and intolerance which will breed racially biased and prejudiced thoughts.
The policy clearly runs counter to some of the objectives our current administration is attempting to achieve – for e.g., student unity through the RIMUP programme, encouraging national type schools as the choice of education for all communities as well as promoting tolerance and understanding within multi-racial and multi-cultural Malaysia.
The above are fairly well documented criticism and opinions with regards to the matriculation college system in Malaysia.
However, I believe that while the above criticisms are important, the more critical question for the authorities and policy makers to ask, is whether these colleges are actually helping the bumiputeras achieve the objectives they were set out to attain. Are these colleges helping the bumiputera community improve their lot by enabling more to achieve academic excellence, gain valuable knowledge and skills, as well as increasing their marketability and employability?
I’m of the strong opinion that these objectives are not only not made more achievable by the matriculation college policy, they are in fact more likely than otherwise, to be retarded by these same policies. This means that by providing the bumiputeras with the special privileges under the matriculation colleges scheme, they are actually losing out in terms of academic excellence and employability.
I have conducted many interviews with Malay candidates for positions in my company. Many of these candidates are shortlisted because they have achieved good results for their SPM. They have also attended the matriculation colleges. One of the candidates who I hired graduated in Computer Science from a respectable university from the United States. However, she admitted that her “matriculation years” were “easy” and that she did not have to study very hard for her matriculation examinations. As a result, she had an initial tough time coping with her first year in university. In fact, she was the only one of the batch of matriculation students studying at the university who did not eventually switched to other “less challenging” courses.
I had an interview with another Malay candidate with outstanding SPM and PMR grades, and speaks impeccable English last weekend. However, she fared relatively badly in her degree in computer science from Universiti Malaya with a CGPA score of 2.69 (2nd class lower). It is very rare to find candidates who had very good scores in SPM graduating with CGPA less than 3.0 in university. I asked her what happened, and not surprisingly, she was a product of the matriculation college system.
My argument for the Government and the education authorities to do away with the matriculation college system has less to do with the fact that it gives the bumiputeras an unfair advantage in admission into the Malaysian public universities or the fact that these colleges admit very few non-bumiputeras. The government should serious consider reforming the matriculation college system and synchronise the system with the standard STPM process, to ensure that the potential of these excellent young bumiputeras who have fared well in their SPM examinations are not hamper in their academic growth and development.
The matriculation colleges are hampering the development of the bumiputeras because of a few reasons:
- The “watered-down” syllabus and the “easier” examination structure of the matriculation colleges fail to enable the bumiputera students to fully achieve their potential. As a result, many of these students fail to cope fully with the subsequent university education. It is hence not surprising that the top students of most local universities comprises largely of non-bumiputeras. The government has in fact, inadvertently, left the superior STPM education channel to the non-bumiputeras.
- The ease at which many of the matriculation students are able to gain entry into the local universities will understandably inculcate a culture of complacency, as they do not need to work as hard in order to achieve their “dream” of entering university. This impact may result or have resulted in longer negative effects post-graduation as they may be used to getting more with less.
- Due to the nature of the matriculation colleges whereby the teaching staff are largely defined by their ethnic group rather than their teaching abilities, it is plausible that the standards of teaching may not be as good as some of the top national type schools. Hence the top Malay students are actually offered an inferior education stream.
The interests of the Malay Agenda, or the proposed revised New Economic Policy (NEP), will be better served if the top Malay students are enrolled into the top national schools for the STPM together with the to non-bumiputera students. The “simple” change in policy will produce within a few years, bumiputera students who will perform better at universities, be less complacent, more hardworking and ultimately, be able to capture a larger proportion of the enlarged Malaysian economic pie.