Tuesday, November 29, 2005

Racial Policies keeping Malaysian academics out

I have to thank Charis from Stanford for posting this article on a mailing list which I'm part of. It's taken from the Chronicle of Higher Education, one of the more respected journals / magazines which discusses issues to do with higher education in the US. This article focuses specifically on Malaysia. Let me first post the beginning of this article:

After graduating from medical school in Canada in the 1970s, Eng Hin Lee was eager to return home. The young Malaysian doctor wanted to be closer to his family, and he was tired of the harsh Canadian winters that never seemed to end. He also missed the simple pleasures of home, such as eating Chinese dim sum, which means "to touch the heart."

Dr. Lee knew that Malaysia, a young country hobbled by poverty, could not match the opportunities and salaries paid abroad. But he felt strongly that there was a place for him there. So the young doctor packed his bags and moved home.

"I wanted to go back to help," says Dr. Lee. Yet when he returned it became obvious it would be difficult to pursue his research goals. Biomedical science in Malaysia was in its nascent stage. Labs were pitifully equipped. There was no significant scientific environment in which to grow or contribute.

After two frustrating years, he packed his bags again. But it wasn't because of the money. It wasn't because of the labs. Dr. Lee, who is ethnically Chinese, did not feel welcome in his own country. Racial policies that had been put in place while he was away made it clear to him that he would never advance.



Notice that the article highlighted the fact that it was racial policies rather than the lack of funding that was the determining factor in pushing Dr. Lee out of Malaysia and into the welcoming arms of NUS. I thought that this article is extremely relevant given our recent discussion on the state of higher education in Malaysia.

I recently sent out a straw poll to this same mailing list asking if people who are currently pursuing their PhDs would consider going back to join the academia in a local university setting. To my surprise, the few people that did respond said that they would consider going back home and working in a local university. I would have thought that the prospect of low pay would dissuade many Malaysians who are pursuing their PhDs here in the US from returning home. (There was one response from an economist friend of mine who's earning big bucks in a private bank who cited low pay as one of the main reasons why he wouldn't go back home but even then, he also cited possible discrimination as another reason)

My sense is that people like Dr. Lee in the 1970s and those in the Malaysian Forum mailing list are not the exceptions. There are many qualified Malaysians, non-Malays included, who would seriously consider returning to 'serve' in the academia in one of our local universities. But I also think that the experience that Dr. Lee faced in the 1970s is likely to be repeated in contemporary times. The system would be equally unwelcoming (if not more so) to non-Malays.

It pains me to see a Malaysian feeling unwelcomed in his or her own country while the government goes out of its way to recruit non-Malaysians to teach in our local varsities. I've tried to stayed away from the issue of race in my postings because I sincerely feel that it's a structural problem that we face in higher education, not necessarily a racial one. For example, if we have the same incentive and disincentive structures (you don't have to publish or do research to get promoted, you are not sacked if you don't) without racial discrimination, I think our local universities would still be in deep trouble. But when structural problems are compounded by racial policies, this needs to be pointed out.

Racial policies which promote academics based on race and not on performance is a key reason why people like Dr. Lee pack their bags and leave our local universities despite their best intentions on wanting to 'serve' our country. Another quote from Dr. Lee:

"It was obvious you wouldn't get very far if you weren't the right race," says Dr. Lee.
Today he works at the National University of Singapore, where he is in charge of a huge lab that is conducting cutting-edge research in stem-cell biology. Dr. Lee, an orthopedic surgeon, leads a team of top scientists culled from all over the world.

"Having come here I think I made the right choice," says Dr. Lee, referring to Singapore's premier teaching hospital. In Malaysia, "I probably would not have become a head of department and dean of the Faculty of Medicine."


I think many Malaysians with foreign PhDs who come back to Malaysia to work in our local varsities can live with the relatively low pay (by international and regional standards). What I think they (and I'm referring to the non-Malays here) cannot take is to see colleagues being promoted to professors and heads of departments based on racial considerations rather than on merit.

There is a strong emphasis within the US academia to recruit minorities (though this policy differs from school to school). There is a perception that the minorities (ethnic and gender) that are hired may not have fulfilled the same kind of rigorous academic standards that a non-minority would have had to go through. I think most US universities would be appalled by the situation in Malaysia where the better qualified minorities are forced out of the system to benefit the less qualified majority.

I'm not saying that all non-Malays are better qualified than the Malays in our local varsities. But what I am saying is that if we had a system that promoted based stricted on merit, cases such as Dr. Lee's would be a rarity. And we would definitely have more heads of departments who are non-Malay. There's also another relatively easy way to test this. We can look at non-Malay scholars who have left the local varsities and chart their achievements in the places they've gone to. It is hard to imagine that someone like Prof Wang Gangwu would have been given the same kind of recognition and opportunities as he did in Hong Kong and Singapore had he stayed within the local varsities.

Our dear friend, the UM VC, can put up all the posters that he wants. But one article like this in a widely read magazine like the Chronicle of Higher Education is enough to convince most US academics that our local universities are of poor quality. And our loss is our neighbor's gain. At the same time as our local universities are shown in a poor light, NUS wins praise (as well as our best brains).

If one were to do a study of the extent of the brain drain from Malaysia to Singapore (forget about the US, UK and Australia for now), it wouldn't be surprising to find that flow has been enormous, however one chooses to quantify it. I personally know two Malaysian PhD students currently in Duke who graduated from NUS and will probably end up going back to NUS after they finish their PhDs. They are not the first nor will they be the last.

Dr. Shafie, you don't have to look far to recruit more lecturers with PhDs. Just take a drive over the Causeway. Finding them is easy. Whether you can be succesful in recruiting these highly qualified Malaysians to come back home to teach is another question.

25 comments:

clk said...

We don't need some endorsement of some journal to tell us a very well known fact. Nearly everyone in (and outside) the system knows about it, from the clerk in the civil service (my father was one of them) to the politicians and heads of political parties.

It's so much embedded in the system that any hint of any change is deemed a sensitive matter that is a threat to National Security.

The question is what are we/they going to do about it?

Anonymous said...

Dr Eng Hin Lee's page is here:
https://aserv.nus.edu.sg/ohr/cv/Staff.asp?Staffno=03906L

He seems to be doing well in Singapore.

Anonymous said...

Sure..with right scientific environment and right exposure to state-of-the-art technology...

I bet Dr Lee would not have achieved so much if he were to remain in our uni..

UM graduate said...

I was told that during 1960s, Prof Wang Gungwu was more qualified than Ungku Aziz to be appointed as the Vice Chancellor of University of Malaya. However, due to racial-biased promotion policy, it was Ungku Aziz who being promoted as Vice Chancellor. At the age of 38, Prof Wang migrated to Australia with is wife. 14 years later, at the age of 56, Prof Wang became the president of the University of Hong Kong until 1995. Currently, Prof Wang is the Chairman of NUS’ Institute of Southeast Asian Studies.

Anonymous said...

This is a well known facts among locals and our own academics overseas. However, with racial based policies such as Special Rights and NEP that were already deeply ingrained in our society, I doubt any significant changes will be made by our government. Anyone who has read and perused the M'sian History will have cognisance of how Tanah Melayu is formed in 1948 in favour of Malayan Union.
In turns, current generation of Non-Bumiputra M'sians suffer the same fate of our forefathers of yesteryears.

johnleemk said...

My father was a lecturer at the Nanyang Technological University in Singapore. When we moved to Malaysia, he applied for a teaching post at one of our local universities. The Head of Department was eager to hire him due to his qualifications and offered him the job on the spot. Some time later, he informed my father that the job was not his after all - orders from the top insisted that a Malay be hired. So my father went into private business, where he is doing well now.

Anonymous said...

Let them have what they want..

Let them continue what policies they want..(with UMNOPutra first policies and all others deemed as "racial issues" stance..)


Pardon me to say this..

in not very far future..

bright students will shun local Unis..

and all the newly foreign minted Malaysian PhDs will shun local Unis...

They reap what they sow. Period.


The spirit of nation building is left with bones, but without the 'spine' if all citizens cannot play useful their roles towards journey of Vision 2020...

Fikir betul-betul, Datuk..

Anonymous said...

There is nothing we can do! Fed up.

Anak Merdeka said...

Do Malaysians seriously expect any change in the system when we have an Education Minister who think nothing of waving the Malay "keris" demanding for a resurrection of the NEP and "Ketuanan Melayu" at his own Malay Youth Party gathering, no less? Read again: The Education Minister!

Anonymous said...

To the anony writer,


Well, while we can only contribute as much as given by the present system..

We must not be disheartened..

We should emulate the spirit of many successful Malaysians within and beyond our motherland ..

We should persist for the opportunity to show our best, whether in academic, business or other spheres of livelihood..

and do so in integrity, honesty
steadfastness, tenacity..

By end of each day, we know that we have served our best given our talent, skill and opportunity, and that counts.

knowing that we have leave our mark and the earth have become a better place because of our existence..


Define your goals !
Seize the day !
and Justify your living existence!



Carpe diem!


Patriot

What-me-worry? said...

Malaysian citizens should realize by now that BN, through the unholy union of racial political parties, will continue to rule this country for a long, long time through racially discriminatory politics and divide-by-means-of-race and rule policies.

There is no way BN will not continue to rule Malaysia, because BN has already ensured this by carving the election constituencies into pockets of electorates that will vote for BN, no matter how small they are. All this was done under the name of democracy.

The mother of all problems in Malaysia is the perpetual dominance of BN, especially UMNO. That’s why our BN MPs can do and say what they like inside and outside the parliament. They can make derogatory comments and insult various races and women, without an iota of regret, shame, or fear.

Because of this dominance, Umnoputras and their cronies and officers are concerned with only the narrow racial picture (‘ketuanan Melayu’) and not with the big national picture. Hence corruption, large scale embezzlement of public money, appointment of incompetent people as chief officers of various government organizations, abuse of power, etc. (all the common things that the blogging communities complained about) are carried out. There will be no end to them.

Things will certainly get worse for non-Malay citizens of Malaysia, as the number of Malays is increasing rapidly while the number of non-Malays is decreasing. Almost all policies in Malaysia are not planned with the non-Malays in mind, as non-Malays are not in the picture. Don’t be fooled by talks of national integration and Bangsa Malaysia as the current racial policies actually divide all of us, more and more each day.

Non-Malay citizens of Malaysia should realize and accept this fact and then take immediate action to leave this country, the earlier the better for their children’s and their children’s children’s sake. Yes, it’s a harsh decision. Some of them have been in this country for several generations, longer than some of the so-called recent bumiputra pendatang. How long has our Selangor MB been here – one or two generations? However, it’s time to assess the situation and admit that the forefathers of non-Malay citizens did make a wrong choice to settle down here. It’s time to move on to a better and fairer land.

Non-Malay citizens of Malaysia should have the courage and pioneering spirit of their forefathers to migrate to another land where their children will enjoy freedom and have access to equal education and job opportunities. They should take comfort knowing that they are better qualified than their courageous forefathers many of whom came to Malaysia empty-handed and with minimal educational qualifications. Take a bold step and settle once and for all the bitterness within non-Malay citizens over the various injustices practiced here. By remaining here, they will always complain about the same old things, again and again, with no solution in sight.

There are many countries to start anew. In fact, there are many countries that have a lot more human diversities than what we boast of. For example, in the US, UK, and Australia, in one classroom alone, you will easily find children of many ethnic groups and they proudly share their ethnic diversities. People there respect, rejoice, and share their different cultures, and they acknowledge that their societies are melting pots of different cultures.

Non-Malay citizens of Malaysia should migrate to one of these countries where you will be appreciated for what you are and where you can contribute positively to the society. Your children will definitely have a better future. After a while, you will invariably ask: “What a fool am I. Why and how did I live so long in Malaysia, a country that discriminates me, my family, and my children because of our race?”

Anonymous said...

"... Hence corruption, large scale embezzlement of public money, appointment of incompetent people as chief officers of various government organizations, abuse of power, etc. .."

Unlike we take the corrective measures to chart our future course, we would end up like our south neighbour that nearly lost
the country due to Asian financial crisis..

Unless our elected leaders decide to chart the right course with right actions, we too, would be like Trojans who cry for the loss of their beloved Troy...some day..

Lrong said...

Don't mean to be impolite to the good prof... but can someone enlighten me more on 'Royal Prof. Ungku Aziz'? I know he went to Waseda University in Japan... Does he, in particular, possess a phd? If so, why not 'Royal Prof. Dr. Ungku Aziz'? as in the 'normal' practice in Bolehland?

Anonymous said...

In the final analysis, non-Malay citizens of Malaysia should thank the BN government for making them to send their children to study overseas (although at the time of sending them overseas the decision was painful and costly), thus allowing their children to get exposure overseas and to get jobs there and to settle down there.

People who survive this sort of pressure will eventually do well. Good for them and their children.

Anonymous said...

some link for
'Royal Prof. Dr. Ungku Aziz'

http://www.cosmopoint.com.my/aboutus/cm.htm

Anonymous said...

Doesn't say very much about the quality of our of our academicians when one of our top academicians is the chairman of Cosmopoint.

To be fair to him, it may also be his personal choice.

CaseyEls said...

“My fellow Malaysians, ask not what your country can do for you: Ask what you can do for your country.” Unfortunately for all of us, these altruistic lines do not work in Malaysia. Sad but true. After almost 48 years of independence, our nation is still governed by the divide-and-rule principle and race-oriented policies, actively promulgated by the ruling racially-based political parties.

Many experienced and patriotic Malaysians, including those who have worked for many years overseas, want to contribute their knowledge and expertise to the progress and welfare of the nation by applying to work with various government or government-related organizations and agencies. However, for most of them, their efforts are futile. Contrary to commonsense, during this K-economy era, their knowledge is not needed to serve this nation. Is it because most of these Malaysians belong to ethnic groups deemed to be undesirable by the various government or government-related organizations and agencies? Why is it that many civil servants who are empowered to employ staff feel that it is alright for them to ignore the applications of fellow citizens who are suitably qualified and want to contribute, but of a different ethnic group? Such wanton and deliberate waste is happening all the time in the last 30 years!

Hence, besides palm oil, petroleum, and other products, Malaysia generously exports trained citizens; citizens that the nation had spent a lot on their education, be it primary, secondary, or tertiary; citizens prized by other nations but intentionally discarded by our own motherland. In a way, we are a good neighbour to many countries because we diligently practise ‘prosper thy neighbour’ policy by directly or indirectly encouraging many of our talented citizens to leave the country to serve other nations.

Ask our fellow non-Bumiputra families in our country and you will easily learn that in many families, there is at least one family member working outside Malaysia; not because they don’t want to serve the motherland, but invariably because the motherland or ‘boleh-land’ does not require their service! This is why there is a large group of educated Malaysians, who could have contributed so much to make Malaysia a better country for all of us, working for other nations. Guess how far can a country progress when it does not treasure its talented citizens?

While we are losing talents, we are also experiencing another national disaster that compounds the competitiveness of our nation. Unfortunately for all of us, there are among us who believe in: “My fellow Malaysians, ask not what your country can offer you, ask not what you can do for your country: Ask what and how much you can squeeze from your country.”

These are Malaysians who have insatiable greed. Many of them, who might hail from impoverished households, had benefited from the generous race-biased policy that has paid for their education and enabled them to have well-paid, cozy jobs (easily four or five-figure monthly salaries) and subsidized houses. In principle, this is alright as fellow Malaysians who need help to improve their social standing should be assisted. By right, it should be pay-back time. These people should help to uplift other less fortunate citizens. However, they want more. Despite having benefited from one generation of assistance and despite their wealth (a lot more than many average Malaysian households), they want the nation to continue supporting their children or their children’s children. They want easy access to wealth (for example, by having approved permits to import cars) to become richer and richer, at the expense of the nation.

Pray tell me, how long can our motherland sustain this unending hemorrhage of national wealth?

Anonymous said...

From my personal experience, local universities are not interesting, seriously, in retaining the best students to be academia of the alma mater. Non of the best students in the pass 5 years at my alma mater had been retained as academia, except for courses that is deemed as non-halal thus quite an irony if not given to a non-Malay. The top people has the impressions that non-Malays will not 'stick around' till retirement and only taking the universities for a 'free' postgraduate ride. Furthermore, one have to stick around for quite a long time, thus showing face, e.g. taking 3 to 5 years just to finish up a Master's degress, to show that you are loyal and have no place to go. Quite similar scenario at the resident colleges/hostel, where students that are 'kuat lepak' with the seniors to be consider for a place in the next coming academic year. All I can say is that people leave because they are being discriminated and pass over for promotion, fundings, etc due to superficial factors and not rewarded in accordance to their contributions. However, the majorities are also divided due to politicking and cronism. Well, at the end of it, students are not receiving the best education they can get, thus unable to obtain jobs upon graduations. Hence post degree training, with allowance, have to be given so that they have the skills to be functional in workplaces. What happened during the 15 to 17 years of eduaction??

Anonymous said...

Let me add another example.

My uncle finished his PhD in Canada in the 1970s. After came back from Canada, he applied for teaching job in UM. They didn't reply him at all. After months of waiting, he applied for NUS. NUS immediately sent him the letter of acceptance and covered all the expense for him to move to Singapore. Now he is one of the head in the Math Dept (i dont' know his actual title) in NUS, trains and supervises Singapore team every year to the Olympic Math competition.

Me, also graduated from Canada, have huge decision and upset ahead.

What we could do is to hope. Hopefully things will change, slowly, because there is no where else we would call home (at least for me) other than our Negara.

Neo

March20 said...

It's sad to read most of the comment above. I would like to share my opinion on why people pursuing PHD's in US would want to return home. Education is a very vital part of civilization. As we get educated, our minds open up, we become more alert about things, we build a sense of responsibility due to the knowledge we have acquired, because as the late Gandhi had put it... knowledge without character is pointless... So going back to my point is that, if those PHD students have acquired good education they would realize their role in society. At a level of such intellect, money would not be so much of a lure, and if at all our policies are that bad... then it is the more the reason for an educated person to come back and help mold the minds of tomorrow so that we may build a better future. An educated person does not take the easy way out... he strives to rectify things... yes it would be an incredibly difficult journey... but no intellect would give up with the awareness that is in him. To me it is no surprise that those students would want to return home and serve as educators, it is the best platform to shape minds... If you can see there is something wrong in the system, then strive to rectify it... dont just run away... and justify your action with a whole lot of selfish excuses...

Anonymous said...

Racial eyesores on the Malaysian landscape
Kua Kia Soong

5:25pm, Tue: The recent outbreak of violence with racial overtones at Petaling Jaya Selatan squatter settlement requires Malaysians to face up quickly to this most critical yet unresolved problem of racism and racial discrimination in Malaysian society.

This agenda is highly appropriate and timely because this year happens to be the year the United Nations will hold its conference Against Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia and Related Intolerance (WCAR) in Durban, South Africa in August.

Racism and racial discrimination have been part of Malaysian political, economic, social and cultural realities ever since colonial times. Today, race has been so deeply institutionalised that it is a key factor determining benefits from government development policies, bids for business contracts, education policy, social policy, cultural policy, entry into educational institutions, discounts for purchasing houses and other official policies.

Practically every aspect of Malaysian life is permeated by the so-called 'bumiputra policy' based on Malay-centrism. This is
unabashedly spelled out by political leaders in the daily mass media in Malaysia.

It is an established fact that racial polarisation is prevalent in various Malaysian institutions. A new survey by Universiti Malaya shows that 98 per cent of Malay students do not mix with non-Malays while 99 per cent of Chinese students and 97 per cent of Indian students do not mingle with the other races.

While the government tries to account for this problem by blaming other extraneous factors such as the existence of vernacular
schools, it is clear that the roots of polarisation lie in this institutionalisation of racism and racial discrimination.

Integral part

Racism is an integral part of the Malaysian socio-political system. The ruling coalition is still dominated by racially-defined component parties, the United Malays National Organisation (Umno), the Malaysian Chinese Association (MCA) and the Malaysian Indian Congress (MIC). These parties compete for electoral support from their respective constituencies by pandering to 'racial' interests. Invariably, their racist inclinations are exposed at their respective party congresses.

Some opportunistic opposition parties likewise pander to their constituencies using racist propaganda to win electoral support and they have also contributed to the vicious circle of racial politics which has characterised Malaysia all these years.

Umno, the ruling party, continues to insist that 'Malay unity' and even 'Malay dominance' is essential for national unity. 'Malay
dominance' is invariably used interchangeably with 'Malay privileges', which the ruling Malay elite justifies through the Federal
Constitution.

Consequently, we have witnessed the periodic controversies over the alleged challenges to Malay special privileges every time sections of Malaysian society call for non-racist solutions to Malaysian problems. The recent fracas over the appeals by the Chinese Associations of Malaysia (Suqiu) is a case in point. There have been other cases in recent Malaysian history in which the ruling party has allowed racist reactions to be used against the non-Malay communities.

White Paper

The official White Paper on the mass ISA detentions of 1987 documents the Umno Youth rally at the Jalan Raja Muda Stadium on Oct 17, 1987, at which racist and seditious sentiments were flagrantly displayed, e.g.: "May 13 Has Begun; Soak it (the kris) with Chinese Blood…" Umno leaders, including those who are ministers today, were among the rabble rousers on the podium.

The ruling party condoned such racism on the grounds that theirs was a reaction to the protests by the Chinese organisations over the posting of unqualified officers to the Chinese schools in 1987. In the same way, Umno Youth tried to justify their recent boorish protest over Suqiu at the Selangor Chinese Assembly Hall by the fact that they were 'provoked' by Suqiu. These realities are principally because they were trying to externalise the internal problems within the ruling party, Umno itself.

Even more recently on Feb 4, 2001, a Malay Action Front rally was organised by former and current Umno leaders using the emblem of an unsheathed kris (Malay dagger) against a blood-red backdrop and calling for the further extension of Malay rights and privileges. Racism and racial discrimination are also manifested in the way indigenous peoples are uprooted from their traditional homelands and displaced to ill-planned resettlement schemes to make way for dams, plantations and other industrial projects. Many development agencies do not respect their native customary land rights. The underlying assumption in official circles is that their cultures and way of life are backward and they need to be 'modernised'. They are rarely properly consulted over these projects and their fate is tantamount to 'ethnocide'.

Migrant workers, including foreign domestic workers, are another group of people who face racism and racial discrimination in Malaysia. There are over two million foreign workers in the country, out of which there are over 10,000 hired as domestic help. The negative and derogatory perception of foreign workers held by many Malaysians condone the abuse of these workers. As women, foreign domestic workers are often subject to verbal, physical and even sexual abuse. The are discriminated against because of their gender, race as well as class.

Affirmative action

The ruling party Umno prides itself on the supposedly 'successful' affirmative action in favour of bumiputra. Bumiputra literally means 'princes of the soil', the official epithet for Malays and other indigenous peoples but which excludes the original peoples, i.e. the Orang Asli of Peninsula Malaysia. This has been the cornerstone of development plans since the New Economic Policy was started in 1971.

Consequently, while this populist bumiputra policy has been applied to the benefit of bumiputra as a whole, the new Malay ruling elite is strategically placed to reap the full benefits of this racially-based policy. Totally committed to capitalism and to privatisation, this policy has ensured that the non-Malay local and foreign elite have also gained from the New Economic Policy since 1971. This class cohesion among the Malaysian ruling elite underpins the racialist politics which has characterised Malaysian society since Independence.

It is time for Malaysians to reaffirm the non-discriminatory basis of the Federal Constitution and to uphold human rights principles which are strictly anti-racist.

Article 8 (1) of the Constitution clearly spells out the principle of equality of all Malaysians while Article 12 (1) allows no discrimination against any citizens on the grounds of religion, race, descent or place of birth.

Article 153 on the special position of Malays was inspired by the affirmative action provisions of the Indian Constitution to protect the minority under-privileged class of harijans. Ours is fundamentally different from those provisions because the ethnic group in whose favour the discrimination operates in Malaysia happens to be the one in political control, the Malays.

Malay dominance

At the time of Independence in 1957, four matters in relation to which the special position of Malays were recognised and
safeguarded were: land; admission to public services; issuing of permits or licences for operation of certain businesses; scholarships, bursaries or other forms of aid for educational purposes. The Constitution certainly does not adhere to any notion of "Ketuanan Melayu" (Malay dominance), which is a totally racist concept.

When the Constitutional (Reid) Commission was considering whether such a provision should be included in the 1957 Constitution, it made the following comments:

"Our recommendations are made on the footing that the Malays should be assured that the present position will continue for a
substantial period, but that in due course the present preferences should be reduced and should ultimately cease so that there should be no discrimination between races or communities." (Report of the Federation of Malaya Constitutional Commission 1957, Govt Press, para 165, p.72)

After the Tunku was deposed in 1971, the new Malay ruling elite felt that adequate opportunities had not been made available to Malays, especially in education and that there should be a larger proportion of Malays in the various sectors. In 1971, under Emergency conditions, Article 153 was duly amended to introduce the quota system for Malays in institutions of higher learning. Clause (8A) specifically provided for the reservation of places for bumiputra in any university, college and other educational institutions.

Quota system

Nevertheless, the quota system was not intended to be the totally non-transparent and non-accountable and unfair system we know it today:

Firstly, Article (8A) makes it clear that the Yang di-Pertuan Agong can only order a reservation of a proportion of such places for the Malays. It would therefore mean that the quota system is applicable only on a faculty basis and more importantly every faculty or institution should reserve places for students of every race. No faculty or institution under this provision could cater for the Malays alone to the exclusion of the other races.

Years after the implementation of this racial quota system, there was no trace of any such order being made by the Agong nor was there evidence of any such order having been gazetted. Such a directive would thus seem to have been made by the officials of the Ministry of Education.

Thus, it is not clear whether the quota system is made applicable on an institutional basis or on the basis of the total number of places available in a particular course of study of all the universities in the country. To apply the quota system on the total number of places available in any particular university will again be a wrong interpretation of the provisions of the Constitution.

Article 153 (8A) does not authorise the administrators of any university to refuse admission to any student of a particular race. It only allows a proportion of the places to be reserved for Malay students. On such a reasoning, the constitutionality of institutions like the Asasi Sains in the University of Malaya or the science matriculation course of the Universiti Sains Malaysia which cater only for bumiputra students is doubtful.

Furthermore, the Constitution of the University of Malaya expressly prohibits discrimination on grounds of race for the admission of any student to any faculty or institution of the university. In this context too, the constitutionality of other institutions which admit students of a particular race only to the exclusion of other races is also doubtful as it violates the equality provision of Article 8.

From the above, it is clear that the question of the constitutionality of the quota system as it has been practised since 1971 especially in totally bumiputra institutions has never been tested.

Original intentions

We know what the original intentions of the 'Malay special privileges' provision in the Merdeka Constitution were, but to maintain that it is a carte blanche for all manner of racial discrimination as we have witnessed since 1971 is a violation of the spirit of the Constitution.

International law sets major limits on affirmative action measures. Notably, affirmative action policies must be carefully controlled and not be permitted to undermine the principle of non-discrimination itself nor violate human rights. Holding the equality principle uppermost, the raison d'etre and reasonableness for differential treatment must be proven.

Another important criterion to ensure successful affirmative action and synonymous with international law is that such special measures should be introduced for a limited duration as was suggested by the Reid Commission in its Report of the Federation of Malaya Constitutional Commission in 1957.

A consequence of the so-called affirmative action policies up to now is that for the poor of all ethnic communities, including the
indigenous peoples in Malaysia, these objectives of wealth redistribution for their benefit have not been met.

While it is widely recognised that racial polarisation exists in many Malaysian institutions such as schools, universities,
the civil service, it must be stressed that this is not a 'natural' consequence of a plural society.

On the contrary, through the years there have been deliberate attempts by those in power to create divisions among the people.
There is general agreement that racial polarisation has its origins in the colonial divide-and-rule strategy. This has been well-documented in studies by W R Roff (The Origins of Malay Nationalism, 1974:24) and Hua Wu Yin, (Class and Communalism in Malaysia, Zed Press 1983)

The racialist formula was institutionalised in the Alliance at Independence and perpetuated by the Barisan Nasional to the
present day. Attempts at creating racial discord among the people continue to be perpetrated in public institutions and the mass media whenever it suits the politicians.

These instances have been well-documented. (See Kua Kia Soong (edited) 'Polarisation in Malaysia: The Root Causes', K Das, Ink, KL 1987; 'Mediawatch: Use and Abuse of the Malaysian Media',Huazi Research Centre 1990 )

Of all the official policies and public institutions which practice racial discrimination, there is none more pervasive than the New Economic Policy (NEP) which was implemented as a fait accompli after the Emergency was declared in 1969.

Elite cohesion

Although its specific objectives were 'restructuring of society to correct the economic imbalance of wealth holding which led to the identification of race with economic function' and 'eradication of poverty irrespective of race', the NEP has been implemented these 30 years in a racially discriminatory way with little transparency or accountability.

Just 10 years after the NEP was implemented, the 1980 census showed that more than 80 percent of all government executive
officers were Malay; Malays held 75 percent of publicly-funded tertiary education places; and 96 percent of Felda settlers were Malay.

By 1990, it was widely held by observers that the wealth restructuring policy objective was very much on target if nominee
companies listed under 'other Malaysians' were analysed. It is also well-known that many of these nominee companies have been formed by the bumiputra elite.

All the same, these figures showing ownership of equity capital, however distorted, also reveal that the rich non-Malay elite have done quite well under the NEP. This perhaps accounts for the elite cohesion which has held the Barisan Nasional coalition together for so long. The evidence further shows that the NEP's 'wealth restructuring' has mainly resulted in increased wealth concentration and greater intra-ethnic inequality.

By the mid-80s, it was found that the top 40 shareholders in the country owned 63 percent of the total number of shares in public companies; the top 4.4 per cent of investors in the Amanah Saham Nasional had savings amounting to more than 70 percent of ASN's total investments.

The ASN is a prime example of a savings institution, secured by Malaysian taxpayers irrespective of race, but which blatantly
discriminates against non-bumiputras. This racial discrimination extends to loans, end-financing, purchase of housing, shares
allocation, etc.

Problem ignored

Racial discrimination in the education policy is manifested in unfair financial allocations to the different sectors and language streams and the reluctance of the government to allow development of the mother-tongue schools of the non-Malays.

Thus the number of Chinese and Tamil primary schools in the country have actually dropped from 1,342 and 888 at Independence to 1,284 and 535 today respectively, even though the population of the communities has doubled in the last 44 years. The government has continued to ignore the grave problem of the shortage of qualified teachers for these schools for years.

By 1990, the realities of the racially discriminatory quota system in education were as follows: an average of 90 percent of loans for polytechnic certificate courses, 90 percent of scholarships for Diploma of Education courses, 90 percent of scholarships and loans for degree courses taken in the country and almost all scholarships and loans for degree courses taken overseas were given to bumiputras.

Regarding the enrolment of students in residential schools throughout the 80s, 95 percent of them were bumiputra. The enrolment in Mara's Lower Science College, the Maktab Sains Mara, was almost 100 percent bumiputra throughout the 80s.

High time

Racial discrimination in the realm of culture is seen not only in the education policy but also in the discrimination against non-Malay cultures and religions in the National Cultural Policy. Non-Muslims face obstacles in their freedom to build places of worship and access to burial grounds, among other complaints.

Racism and racial discrimination have dominated Malaysian society for far too long. Now that the Malay ruling elite has clearly gained control of the Malaysian economy, it is high time for a new consensus based on non-racial factors such as class, sector and need to justify affirmative action.

It is time for all Malaysians who hunger for peace and freedom to outlaw racism and racial discrimination from Malaysian society once and for all and to build real unity based on adherence to human rights, equality and the interests of the Malaysian masses:

Non-racial solutions to Malaysian political institutions

1) Political parties formed on the basis of race to further the interests of their respective races should be outlawed as such
practices are inconsistent with international conventions against racism and racial discrimination;

2) Ratify all the international covenants and UN Conventions that have not been ratified by the Malaysian government to ensure that all legislation in the country abide by international human rights standards;

3) Enact a Race Relations Act and institute an Equal Opportunities Commission to combat racism, racialism, and racial discrimination in all Malaysian institutions;

4) Delineation of constituencies must be based on the principle of 'one person, one vote' and there should not be wide discrepancies between the number of voters in different constituencies;

5) Reintroduce elected local government so that problems of housing, schools, etc. can be solved in non-racial ways;

6) Ensure that there is no racial discrimination in the civil and armed services and that every ethnic community has equal chance of promotion;

7) Establish an Independent Broadcasting Authority which is fair to all ethnic communities in Malaysia;

Non-racial solutions to Malaysian economic development

8) There must be full transparency and accountability to ensure that contracts and shares are not dispensed on a racial basis through nepotism, cronyism or corruption;

9) Public money must not be used to bail out failed private businesses under the guise of affirmative action;

10) Government policies should be strategically aimed at reducing income disparity between the rich and poor regardless of race, religion, gender, disability or political affiliation;

11) Small and medium industries, the backbone of national industrialisation, should be developed without racial discrimination;

12) Fair and adequate support should be provided to all sectors including pig farmers especially during times of crisis;

13) Land should be fairly distributed to farmers of all ethnic communities;

14) The racially-based quota system should be replaced with a means-tested sliding scale mechanism for deserving entrepreneurs;

Non-racial solutions to Malaysian social development

15) Modernise the 450 or so New Villages in the country which have existed for more than 50 years, in which many of our small and medium industries are located and where basic infrastructure is inadequate;

16) Improve the living conditions (e.g. a guaranteed minimum monthly wage) and basic amenities such as housing, education and health facilities of plantation workers;

17) Ratify the International Convention on the Protection of the Rights of all Migrant Workers and members of their families;

18) Set up an Equal Opportunities Employment Commission to address all forms of discrimination in the workplace;

19) Gazette all communal lands of the Orang Asli and other indigenous peoples so that they can control their own land resources and choose their own way of life;

20) Enact laws to confirm the rights of urban settlers and obligations of developers to provide fair compensation and alternative housing to urban settlers;

21) Cater to the special needs of women, children, senior citizens and the disabled;

22) Provide more recreational facilities for the youth regardless of race to allow them to develop positive and healthy lifestyles and to encourage tolerance and awareness of cultural diversity and equality;

23) Establish a housing development authority to direct construction of low and medium-cost public housing for the needy irrespective of race;

24) Poverty eradication programmes to benefit the poor of all ethnicity must be seriously pursued;

Non-racial solutions to Malaysian education

25) Special assistance must be based on need by under-privileged sectors and classes and not on race;

26) Institute a means-tested sliding scale of education grants and loans for all who qualify to enter tertiary institutions regardless of race, religion or gender;

27) Recognition of educational certificates, diplomas or degrees should be dealt with by the National Accreditation Board on strictly academic grounds and not politicised or subject to racial discrimination;

28) Schools using the mother tongue of Malaysian minorities should be built as long as there is a demand for them in any catchment of these ethnic communities and they should not be racially discriminated against in financial allocations;

29) Establish a long-term solution to the crisis of teacher shortage in the Chinese and Tamil schools;

30) Amend the Education Act 1996 to reflect the national education policy as originally stated in the Education Ordinance 1957 ensuring the use, teaching and development of the mother tongue of all Malaysian ethnic communities;

31) Make available compulsory Pupils' Own language (POL) classes within the normal school curriculum as long as there are five pupils of any ethnic community in any school;

Non-racial solutions to Malaysian cultural policy

32) Promote knowledge, respect and sensitivity among Malaysians on Malaysian cultures, religions and ethnicity;

33) All places of prayer and worship for all ethnic communities should be gazetted in their areas of domicile free from any encumbrances and there should be no arbitrary restrictions on these places of worship;

34) National artistic and literary awards and scholarships considerations should be for all works by Malaysians regardless of the language in which they are written;

35) All ethnic Malaysian cultures should be fairly represented in official cultural bodies and the media.


DR KUA KIA SOONG, a former ISA detainee and member of
parliament, is a director of human rights group Suaram.

Anonymous said...

Our dear nation is one very interesting country, with many 'interesting' laws and interesting powerful people.. I used to work in NUS, i can assure you that there are many Professors and lecturers there are actually Malaysian. Some which are Phd Grads from MIT or high profile researchers in their field. I believe that making a better living or going for the higher pay is secondary, I have heard of professors and deans were asked to retire when they turn 55 or 60 in Malaysia because it's the retirement age. By all means these are academias, as they are older they are wiser and how much effort do you need to teach or guide the next generation (not to mention most of them has been doing such thing through out their career). I had a math lecturer who is 77 years old in my uni days, and have met many professors who are well above 60 and they are still vibrant and sharp. Malaysian education policy must change. More Importantly, they really need to update their definition "Bumiputera". Things changes a lot in 50 years, we have to change in order to keep up.

DIASPORA said...

After 50 0r more so years the ordinary Malaysian has gained the courage to challenge the system of what we may safely call UMNOPUTRAISM" where all the choice cuts of the meat went to whilst all others starved. Some were given crumbs. Others were given a false sense of pride by being given unusually high mamipulated marks at school and accelerated promotions and shortening of courses to churn out unfit moronic doctors; acciountants; engineers; arts graduates and more Islamic Studies graduates because the latter was not questionable.

What we face today is the result of these psychotic arrogant policies laid out by idiots for IDIOTS. Our Civil services. local authorities and Armed forces are now manned by more idiotic nincompoops than proper civil servants. Hence the difficulties in implementing Government policies resulting in garlands being given into the hands of simians.

It is the fervent hope, wish and prayer of all good Malaysians that the God given chance for Malaysia to rise again has come through the National Election. We may get to know of commissions paid for the Submarines; House in Perth; Yaucht in Turkey; Shukoi Fighters in Russiia; Security systems worth over RM700,000,000.00 to cronies of top security personnel; etc.

Malaysians are waiting for more and more news on how they were hoodwinked and looted of the Nation's wealth and if it is truly so that certain ex State Assemblyman also committeed hara kiri before things got worse.

The BN may try to insidiously create civil commotion and riots to take control of the country through a State of Emergency. All Malaysians would hopefully avoid this pitfall..

Anonymous said...

Why the discrimination? Exellent Student from SJK will not be enrolled into Sekolah Berasrama Penuh no matter how good is the UPSR result. No matter th student are bumi or not. Just because the school are SJK or private not SK? What happen if all the student go to goverment school? Will the goverment have enough school?What kind of system? 1 Malaysia

Anonymous said...

well it seem that all of you guys don't mix around with others from our neighboring countries. yes i would say that MALAYSIA policy is one sided, but u have to look at history. have you people go and visit the kampung? any kampung... see how do they live... i'm not trying to be racist, but who have more money??? it is not fair for you guys who is just here for less than 1 or 2 generation to get all the thing same as us, my fore father was here for more than 10 generation as i recall, and still our family still have to struggle. not all bumiputra are rich. think before you write... period...