Results irrelevant if the price is right
PETALING JAYA: SPM students who do not qualify for medicine, pharmacy, veterinary studies, dentistry and aviation are being guaranteed places in universities abroad – thanks to some very “helpful” agents.
An agent and a former consultant told Sunday Starhow they had been sending unqualified students abroad by supplying foundation course certificates with no questions asked.
While some require the students to sit for an exam, the results are irrelevant. The test, insiders claimed, was a sham as it was conducted by the agents themselves.
For less than RM4,000, students are given certificates that will guarantee them a place in select universities. But upon enrolment, between RM20,000 and RM60,000 must be paid.
Higher Education Ministry deputy director-general (public institutions of higher learning) Datin Paduka Dr Siti Hamisah Tapsir said the sale of foundation certificates was wrong.
The ministry, she said, could take action including issuing fines or revoking the licences of institutions found guilty.
“Tell us if you know about local institutions or agents offering such services. Unless we receive reports from the public, it’ll be difficult to investigate and act on this,” she said, urging parents and students not to support wrongful practices.
Besides the ministry’s own education fairs, she said there were many others that give good advice to those who want to know more about legitimate courses being offered.
Raising awareness on available options and career prospects was a vital and ongoing process, she added.
“We understand that parents want their children to pursue programmes in critical courses like medicine. But there are many other opportunities that offer bright prospects for the future.”
Deputy Education Minister Chong Sin Woon advised students against entering universities in such a way, saying that there were no shortcuts in life.
“Studying really tough courses like medicine, pharmacy and dentistry, is not easy if you don’t have the aptitude. You’ll face tremendous obstacles in your studies.”
Students, he said, must choose courses based on their academic qualifications and passion, and not be pressured into choosing a specific course merely because it was their parents’ choice.
Malaysian Medical Council (MMC) president and Health director-general Datuk Dr Noor Hisham Abdullah is aware of the dubious foundation certificates.
“They take students with lower qualifications or circumvent the ‘No Objection Certificate’ requirement by conducting their own foundation courses,” he said.
“But this is neither under the jurisdiction nor the powers of the MMC and ministry.”
Malaysian Medical Association president Dr Ashok Zachariah Philip said minimum grades were required for the benefit of the students themselves and their future patients.
Centres that provide students with an easy path into medical school are doing the students and their parents a disservice, he said.
“It’s better for them to accept that they don’t have the grades for medicine and do something else or sit for the SPM again.
“If the minimum grades are not obtained at secondary level, what chance does the student have of getting good grades at tertiary level, no matter how hard they work?” he asked.
You’re exploiting, not helping
ALLOWING unqualified students to do medicine isn’t helping anyone except the unscrupulous businessmen, stakeholders say.
These agents fill seats at all costs and are making huge profits. There’s no such thing as a free lunch or ‘helping’ in such businesses, Asia Metropolitan University president and chief executive officer Prof Datuk Dr N.K.S. Tharmaseelan shrugs.
“They can only ‘help’ if the students are eligible in the first place – if they have the required five B4 credits in SPM. Students cannot start their foundation course otherwise. They cannot even enrol in the foundation course while resitting their SPM,” Dr Tharmaseelan, who is also the Malaysian Medical Association (MMA) and Medico-Legal Society of Malaysia past-president, points out.
If you really want to be a doctor but don’t have the grades, resit your SPM. Many have done that and succeeded, Federation of Private Medical Practitioners’ Associations Malaysia founding member and MMA past president Dr Milton Lum, says.
“These agents are exploiting, not helping. Helping means putting a person in a better state. Are you in a better state if you get into a university with poor grades?” he argues.
All foundation courses like pre-university, pre-medicine and matriculation, must comply with the Malaysian Qualifications Agency (MQA) guidelines and colleges offering them must be licensed by the Ministry of Higher Education (MOHE), he says. If the parents are illiterate or don’t know any better, surely the student must have enough common sense to check on the legitimacy of the certificates, he adds.
“If you suspect something amiss, tell the MOHE. The ministry can revoke the licence... or in the case of an unlicensed operator, take legal action. We have, through the Malaysian Embassy, informed all foreign universities of our minimum requirements for medicine,” he says.
The Malaysian Medical Council (MMC) and MQA regularly inspects all medical universities here, Dr Tharmaseelan says. Those that admit such students are fined heavily and the students are told to leave immediately. To bypass the system, many unqualified students go abroad, no thanks to these dubious agents. To escape scrutiny, they conduct their courses in cheap premises.
“Students averse to studying seek the easy way out by going to colleges that give out certificates without them having to attend classes or sit for exams. Many are fly-by-night operators who keep changing premises. Those who seek this illegal pathway are not willing to expose the so-called centres as they’ll be affected and exposed too,” he says.
Most of these centres have set up shop over the past decade or so, but we’re only seeing the effects now, Medical Practitioners Coalition Association of Malaysia deputy president Dr Raj Kumar Maharajah observes. Recently, he shares, a medical student applied for a part- time job as a nurse while waiting for her posting. She admitted to having sat for a test conducted by an agent prior to entering medical school in the Middle East.
“How can an agent conduct the exam? There’s a lot of nonsense going on out there.”
Most medical universities in Malaysia either require the students to enrol in their own foundation courses or give preference for admission to medical programmes to their own students, Dr Tharmaseelan adds.
Warning that if not nipped in the bud the problem will become pervasive, Dr Tharmaseelan says the MOHE and MOH are already tightening the screws and plugging all the loopholes to prevent unqualified students from gaining admission to medical schools abroad. In future, only legit students will get hired.
“So, some of these unqualified students will end up jobless and saddled with debts.”
Dr Raj Kumar suggests educating parents and students about dubious courses. Everyone from schools and colleges to the media, he stresses, has a role to play. The MOH must make clear on its websites the recognised colleges and the minimum qualifications needed to gain entry. It should also advise foreign colleges against appointing local agents. Encourage applicants to deal directly with the universities instead, he offers, stressing that dubious medical degrees shouldn’t be recognised and the universities issuing them ought to be delisted.
“The MMC mustn’t let students register with it if they entered colleges or universities without a No Objection Certificate (NOC),” he adds.
Always deal directly with the universities and check with the MOHE and MOH to find out the entry procedures, he tells students. Parents and students should attend as many career talks as they can to discover the many career options out there, he adds. One needn’t be a doctor to have a good career and be respected. Parents shouldn’t force their children to fulfil their own ambitions either.
While grades and a good academic foundation are important, one should also have a proper attitude and aptitude to read medicine, he says. Students and parents, he thinks, may be motivated by their admiration for relatives or friends who are doctors.
“Even after years of studying, training and exams are a constant. There’s the long hours of pacing the wards, no holidays, no weekends and having to help people through some of the most difficult times of their lives. The reality is not as glamorous as what we see on Doogie Howser, M.D. or House.”
Dubious courses and practices can hurt the country’s reputation as an educational hub, Dr Tharmaseelan warns. Urging the MOHE to launch a serious clampdown and impose heavier penalties including custodial sentences on those who rob youngsters of a “real future”, he says going to agents to cheat the system is a waste of money and effort.
Patients must be able to trust doctors, Dr Raj Kumar stresses. To justify that trust, you must respect human life and make sure your practice meets the standards expected of you, he adds.
“If you start off on the wrong footing by not having the proper qualification, it will be a struggle throughout. And, it’s your patients who are the victims.”
Slamming agents that give students false hope and put the public at risk, he says taking money from poor families and promising them the sky, is a sin.
He, however, doesn’t agree with the proposal for all medical graduates to sit for an exam before they are allowed to practice locally because “there are enough guidelines and laws in place”. The problem is that these haven’t been enforced. Emphasis should instead be in creating awareness of the problem, not punishment, he feels. If the MMC recognises a particular foreign medical degree, why the need to sit for another exam to recognise that qualification, he asks.
On March 15, the MMC announced steps to stop the rot, including a proposal to make foreign medical school graduates sit for a licensing examination before they are granted registration in the country.
“For years the MMC has been sending teams to evaluate the syllabus and facilities of foreign universities. So, if a university is certified as ‘good’ why do the graduates need to sit for another exam? And, if there’s an exam, both private and public university graduates must be subjected to it otherwise it’s double standards.” Worried about the varying standard of medical graduates, Dr Lum – who has been pushing for the exam for “two decades, and counting” – agrees. Insisting that this is the best solution, he says every aspiring doctor must sit for a common exam.
“They can graduate from anywhere in the world so long as they pass the MMC exam. This is fair because there’s no discrimination between local and foreign graduates and students can choose where they want to study instead of being limited by a list of recognised universities. In the US, everyone sits for an exam and this is going to be done in the UK too,” he points out.
Under the Second Schedule of the Medical Act 1971, qualifications from over 350 universities worldwide are recognised by the MMC. With a common licensing exam, the list – which was inherited from the British – can be done away with, Dr Lum argues.
“So, only knowledge, skill and aptitude will determine whether you become a doctor. And it will be MMC’s duty to ensure integrity of the exam.”