His Majesty struck an important note when he said: “Unity in a multi-racial society is truly an important foundation for achieving national strength.”
As his Majesty pointed out at the beginning of His Gracious Address, this is the third year of the implementation of the Third Malaysia Plan. It is therefore an important occasion for a national stocktaking, to assess how successful we have been in creating national unity and solidarity out of the diverse peoples in the country.
The New Economic Policy and the Third Malaysia Plans proclaimed as their overriding objective the achievement of national unity and gave a solemn promise that in their implementation, “no one in Malaysian society need experience or feel any sense of loss or deprivation of his rights, privileges, income, job or opportunity.”
Eight years after its implementation, it is evident that the NEP, though proclaimed as an instrument to solve old inequalities and injustices, has not only left many of these inequalities and injustices intact, but have also created new inequalities and injustices in our multi-racial society which will retard the process of nation building.
Drastic diminution of higher education opportunities a New Injustices
The drastic diminution of higher education opportunities especially for non-Malay students in the country is one of the most serious new inequalities and injustices created by the New Economic Policy.
Last year, a total of 25,998 students applied for degree and diploma courses in the five Malaysian Universities; but only 5,953 students were accepted. According to Dr. Mahathir, the detailed racial breakdown were Malays 4,457, Chinese 1,187, Indians 226 and others 43, giving a percentage breakdown of 75% Malays and 25% non-Malays.
I estimate that some 20,000 non-Malay student who were eligible for university selection found the doors of university education in Malaysia closed to them.
I, and for that matter no one objects to expanded higher education opportunities for Malay students to enable them to receive the benefits of higher education, but this must not be done in disregard to the solemn Government promise that “no one in Malaysian society need experience or feel any sense of loss or deprivation of his rights, privileges, income, job or opportunity.” In this case, the non-Malay students and their parents feel and experience an acute sense of loss and deprivation of opportunity higher education in Malaysia.
Higher education opportunities will become even more diminished in two years time. This is because until 1980, Malaysian students denied places in local universities could still go abroad to England, Australia, New Zealand, Canada, India for higher education if they and their parents could scrape together money to finance them.
But after 1980, with the complete abolition of the MCE examination and the switch-over to the Malay-media SPM, Malaysian students will find it difficult to join Commonwealth universities and colleges simply because their command of the English language would not be sufficient to entitle them to automatic admission as in the present.
The switch-over from MCE to SPM will therefore lead to a drastic cut-off of the number of students who can go abroad for higher studies.
‘One generation opens up the road for the next generation to travel’
It is said that one generation opens up the road for the next generation to travel. But in Malaysia, one generation is closing up the road of educational opportunities so that the next generation cannot travel. This is going backwards and not forwards.
The closing of roads of opportunities for Malaysian citizens run counter to His Majesty’s injunction in his Royal Address that “the people must be more enlightened and willing to work hard and be prepared to acquire scientific and technical skills.” As His Majesty rightly put it: “The strength of the nation as a whole is also dependent on the availability of an educated manpower, sound and sincere management and citizens who are equipped with scientific and technical skills at all level in the public as well as the private sector.”
In this connection, I call on the Education Minister, Datuk Musa Hitam, to take immediate steps to ensure that the roads of higher education opportunities presently open for Malaysian students are not closed up in two years time with the complete switch from MCE to SPM in 1980.
I am not suggesting that the total switch from MCE to SPM should be postponed, as clearly this is now too late for such a suggestion. However, to ensure that Malaysian students, especially non-Malay students will not find after 1980 that the doors of higher education are closed to them, both inside (because of deliberate government policy) and abroad (because of inadequate command of English language), the Ministry of Education should introduce specially upgraded English syllabus to ensure that the students who pass the SPM in 1980 and after, would continue to command adequate standard in the English language to enable them to gain automatic entry into Commonwealth universities and colleges.
Roads of higher education opportunities abroad are in fact becoming more and more restricted because of ever reduction of places overseas students and the increasing cost of living, but the Malaysian Government should not arbitrarily block up these roads of opportunities by allowing the standard of English to fall to such levels that Malaysian from 1980 onward cannot join Commonwealth universities and colleges directly.
Another road which is being closed for young Malaysians is the impending in Australian universities through the matriculation preparation of the Taylor’s College and an equally substantial number to other Commonwealth countries like United Kingdom and New Zealand.
The number of Taylor’s College students who passed the Australian Victorian matriculation and accepted into Australian universities since the inception are:
1969 – 26
1970 – 48
1971 – 63
1972 – 78
1973 – 217
1974 – 360
1975 – 383
1976 – 324
1977 – 350
These figures do not include students who proceed to United Kingdom or New Zealand or other Commonwealth countries for higher studies.
The Taylor’s College authorities have publicly announced that this would be their last year of operation. If the Taylor’s College is closed down at the end of this year, this means that another road of higher education opportunities for Malaysian students would be closed.
This should attract the concern of the educational authorities and the Ministry of Education and the Government should consider ways and means whereby the Taylor’s College could continue to operate and contribute to the provision of higher education opportunities for Malaysian students. In this connection, there is no denying that the Taylor’s College has made a substantial contribution to the provision of higher education opportunities for Malaysian students.
I now understand that the Taylor’s College is prepared to operate at least for another year.
The problem is that the Police Co-operatives have bought over the Taylor’s College building. I urge therefore the Minister of Education to look into this matter to help ensure that the roads of educational opportunities are not closed.
It is not sufficient that the Barisan Nasional Government should take immediate steps to ensure that the present roads of higher education opportunities are not closed up, but open up new roads of higher education opportunities for our young citizens.
Opening new roads of higher education opportunities
The DAP proposes two ways in which the Government can open up new roads of higher education opportunities for Malaysian students.
One is to expand local higher education opportunities for non-Malay students, without restricting higher education places for Malay students. Last year, the total number of non-Malay students accepted into the five local universities were, 1,946. This figure should be at least trebled for the 1978-1979 academic year, which is beginning with the recent release of the HSBC and STP results.
The second way to open up new roads of higher education opportunities is to permit private universities and colleges. There is presently an application for the establishment of the Merdeka University and I can see no reason why Merdeka University should not be established in Malaysia. The Merdeka University project in fact represents the best example of ‘Berdikari’ – ‘ Stand on Your Own Feet’ –which the Government Ministers and leaders had been exhorting the people to observe on the ground that the people should not expect the government to do everything.
In fact, the Government should honour the proponents of the Merdeka University for their great contribution to educational advancement and national development and offer all possible government assistance and advice. This is because human investment is the most important form of investment.
I was very disappointed yesterday when listening to the speech of the seconder of the motion of thanks to His Majesty, the MP for Teluk Anson (Gerakan), Au How Cheong that did not mention even a word about the Merdeka University proposal when he dwelt on universities and university education in Malaysia.
I do not see how any fair-minded Malaysian can object or oppose the proposed Merdeka University, which is fully in accordance with the Constitutional guarantee of Clause 152 permitting free use of the different languages, including their use as media of instruction at all levels of education. The Merdeka University has been proposed to say much on the Merdeka University project, as I have a motion asking the House to express support for the Merdeka University project.
I will urge all political leaders, especially those in UMNO, and others in the Barisan Nasional parties, like MCA, Gerakan to see the problem of higher education opportunities from a Malaysian perspective. No one should see the problem from the standpoint that there should be more university places for Chinese and Malays. The Malaysian standpoint should be: the Malays are more backward educationally than the other races and should therefore receive every government assistance; while at the same time, there should be appropriate and fair expansion of higher education places for the other races.
The national objectives should not be the negative one to hold down any one race, for to do so is to hold up the entire national progress. It should be the positive one of the ensuring that all racial groups take full part in progress to give the fullest impetus to national development and advance.
Recently, when the Malaysian Prime Minister Dato Hussein Onn was in Australia, he asked the Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Fraser not to allow Malaysian students who had completed their studies to remain in Australia.
Prime Minister should realize that Malaysian students in Australia who do not want to return to Malaysia on graduation is not the only form of ‘brain drain’ afflicting Malaysia. The other form of brain drain is the mass emigration of Malaysian professionals abroad, which has since the beginning of the 1970’s assumed the proportion of a ‘flood tide’.
So, even if Malaysian students in Australia and elsewhere return to Malaysia on graduation there is nothing to prevent them from emigrating after their return, if the Barisan Nasional Government continues to be blind to the root causes of popular frustration, discontent and alienation. These are the new injustices and inequalities created by the New Economic Policy.
My colleagues and I had raised this matter in Parliament many times, but Government Ministers had turned a deaf ear – some even pretending that this problem does not exist, although in some Malaysian towns, more than 50% of the medical practitioners had packed up their bags and emigrated. But the Barisan Nasional leaders know about this problem, as the doctor brother of the Deputy Education Minister had himself joined in the emigration, but are not prepared or lack the political will to do anything about it.
New Educational Insecurity
The Barisan Nasional Government has done the people of Malaysia and their children a grave disservice in creating the problem of educational insecurity, especially with regard to higher education opportunities among Malaysian Children.
We have reached the stage where students, whether in upper or lower secondary forms, worry about their educational future – not whether they can do well academically, but whether they would be able to have an opportunity for higher education.
This is time for the Government to rectify this grave injustice in our society. The Government should realize that the development of a country is brought about by people and not by money or other material resources. The loss of qualified manpower is a loss which Malaysia cannot afford if we are to develop rapidly and enable Malaysians to share equitably in the fruits of development. Malaysia will suffer grave loss of qualified manpower if students abroad refuse to return on graduation or professionals emigrate en masse or Malaysians with the capability and talents are not given a chance to develop these talents and capabilities for the good of the country.
I seriously commend to the Prime Minister the proposal that the Government send a team to Australia and other Commonwealth countries to persuade Malaysian graduates and professionals to return to serve Malaysia and to remove the root causes which keep them away returning to Malaysia.
(Speech by Parliament Opposition Leader, DAP Secretary-General and MP for Kota Melaka, Lim Kit Siang, on the Royal Address on March 22,1978)