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:
- 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.
- 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:
- 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
- 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.