Matriculation dilemma: When more is more heartaches

APRIL 25 — The matriculation admission quota upheaval abates as government carves up more spots as a backdoor solution to appease all parties.

In 2018, 3,200 non-Bumiputeras got in which is 700 more than the standard 2,500 (10 per cent). A furore broke this year when it reverted to the traditional level. “They’ve done it again, a U-turn!” was the common lament.

Following classic Mahathirism they divert the issue with money. They’ve upped the admission numbers by 60 per cent. So, 40,000 will enter the system instead of 25,000.

That way, Pakatan Harapan can do the following; a) Tell the right wing Malays, they’ve not compromised on the 90 per cent rule, in fact they’re checking in 36,000 Bumiputeras instead of 22,500 only; b) Inform the equality advocates, there’ll be 4,000 non-Bumiputeras, which is a substantial bump from 2018’s 3,200, or the usual 2,500; and c) Remind our young that government is the master magician.

Crisis averted and normal programming returns.

Except it won’t. It’s the idiomatic sweeping of our troubles under the carpet.

Passing the buck masterclass

To begin with, it adds probably RM150 million to government expenses if it costs us RM10,000 per additional student.

The one-year course only asks a registration fee under RM500 from students, and the rest is borne by the government. Increasing numbers overnight asks physical infrastructure questions also.

Would the 15,000 remove “bums on seats” in the Form Six programmes across the country, creating over-capacity in the government schools?

Will government redirect more teachers from schools to matriculation centres? Would some schools end their Form Six programmes?

Does it really benefit minorities? While 1,500 more are at matriculation centres, the matriculation system will now presumably dish out 40,000 applicants for the same number of places in public universities.

The STPM takers will now have to joust with more matriculation takers, who are already ahead in the queue.

Expect more STPM scorers in 2020 to be denied spots in public universities, thanks to an increased matriculation batch.

The reason matriculation is clamoured by all is that it near-guarantees placement in public universities. Now, the STPM takers are going to be squeezed even further.

Unless of course the public universities increase their admission. Public universities’ government grants shrink year to year, therefore any instruction to increase undergraduates would be resisted.

Though universities can just compromise on quality to adjust for capacity demands.

With the perpetual need for our public universities to rise in global university rankings, the universities calibrate a larger population with more foreign students with suspect backgrounds and cheaper to hire foreign educators. International outlook is an evaluation criterion.

The transfer of problems does not end there.

If graduate pay has fallen in the last 10 years thanks to among others graduate oversupply, rushing out more graduates is certainly not the solution.

Hurt

It’s not alarmist these suppositions, since the government is hell bent on not upsetting perceived sacred cows held by right-wingers.

Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad knows the ultras intimately. His Malay Dilemma laid heavily into race and university admission.

But what is worse about this is how it fractures further the Malay psyche.

Where many of my countrymen are told they won’t get in unless special allowances are made for them. According to Gabungan Pelajar-Pelajar Melayu Semenanjung (GPMS) president Alif Anas Md Noor, Bumiputera students require another decade at least to catch up with their non-Bumiputera peers.

Race based politicians wooing Malay votes have framed Malay power as what Malays can get, rather than what Malays can display.

When gains are had because they are given not earned, they become an unseen burden to the recipients. The burden to constantly justify what was given can be overwhelming.

But more insidiously it steals from accomplishment. It renders confidence brittle. And more often than not, it fortifies the siege mentality.

And predictably it will strengthen the resolve among non-Malays that they’d never get a fair shake. The barbs and tropes towards Malays would increase in private spaces and definitely in race-exclusive WhatsApp groups.

Racism is not race specific in Malaysia; there’s enough race vitriol being spewed by an overwhelming number of Malaysians. But somehow or rather due to mishaps like matriculation admissions, the race fissures grow.

First steps

Pakatan Harapan has a chance to hold that conversation we’ve been denied by decades of Barisan Nasional (BN).

Everybody wants to see their kids graduate. Nobody wants to have their kids become trash collectors or Rela guards assisting traffic outside a kenduri.

But having said that, not everyone gets to go to university.

The people must talk about what are opportunities and who should have those opportunities. What appals is that both Pakatan and BN appear unconvinced the people should be involved in determining our policies.

While diametrically opposed views would fill the video reel, these views must be heard.

To be fair, 60 years of BN was not physically violent. However, social and economic displacements have occurred, and their by-products, right or wrong, have become institutionalised into our public policies.

The past shapes the way we look at the present and anticipate the future. Awareness is the starting point to progress.

Nothing has to be done today, no drastic steps which disrupts continuity. But overtures have to be made.

Very few of the non-Malay students are ignorant of the windows of opportunities available. Likewise, Malays about how full-on affirmative action, especially education, appears cringe-worthy to a watching world. Our children are global citizens without a doubt affected by prevailing standards of morality, and pop culture.

Again, what we need today is a larger conversation where ideas not commonly expressed in forums are said. It soothes the rakyat to know government does not deny their perspectives even if overhauls are impossible in the short term.

Could it possibly be that most of our problems today stem from the inability to communicate and increase the inclusivity?

* This is the personal opinion of the columnist.

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