Saturday, August 06, 2005

Higher Education Ministry in Hot Soup?

Following a Star report on August 3rd, and my corresponding post, the Star in a front page article publicised the fact that confidential student data is being used by some private colleges to solicit potential students who failed to get places in public universities.

These private colleges claimed to have obtained the names, contact details and other personal information of students from the public universities’ admissions unit or UPU, which comes under the Higher Education Ministry. A full-time mother from Kepong was quoted:
“My son received at least six such letters a week after the university admission results were out. We were very surprised by how they got his details. One college actually said in its letter that it would like to offer my son a specific course as he had failed to obtain a place in a university.”
Apparently, some colleges have been receiving this privileged information while, others have actually been offered the student information at a price:
One private college operator said a “ministry officer” offered him the list in June with an asking price of more than RM1,000 per student. “We were told that we had to buy the list in a batch of over a thousand students which means we had to fork out over RM1mil for the information. I told them I wasn’t interested,” he added.

Claimed another private college marketing manager: “We were offered the list through a third party for RM8,000. This is nothing new as the UPU list has been on sale for a few years now.”
Of course, as per normal, the Higher Education Minister Datuk Dr Shafie Salleh said he "was not aware of such incidents." And almost in a knee jerk response, the deputy director-general in-charge, Prof Datuk Yusuf Kassim declared that the UPU information is protected under the Official Secrets Act (OSA) and denied that such as thing was happening (sigh).
“This is all under OSA. Don’t play the fool. The penalty (for leaking the information) is 20 years in prison.” He said he was aware of the allegations but denied that such a thing was happening. “We have never given the information out. This is all a business gimmick. The college operators will be the best people to ask.”
Almost certainly, there will be some admission of "individual mischief" at some stage but will the responsible (or rather irresponsible) elements be duly punished? As it is the parents of these students are calling for repercussions as reported by the Star on the same day.
A letter from a private college read: “We know that your application for entry into local universities had been rejected by the Unit Pendaftaran Universiti (UPU) and we can offer you a place and loan so that you can further your studies.”

A parent, who declined to be named, said his daughter had received about 20 letters from private colleges inviting her to take up an offer to study at their college.

Another parent complained that private colleges, in some cases, were misleading the recipients by using envelopes of public universities to send letters.

What then will be the repercussions on the Ministry of Higher Education, and for that matter, the Minister himself? Watch this space!

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