The uproar over student intake to public universities can be easily averted with a little more openness in the selection process.
IN 2009, the Chicago Tribune uncovered a “shadow admissions system” in place for relatives of law-makers and trustees at the University of Illinois, United States.
Through a Freedom of Information request, the newspaper detailed how the university had a separate admissions list for well-connected applicants who had a higher chance of getting accepted regardless of their qualifications.
Then in February, The Guardian reported on data implying that there was a racial bias in student admissions to the University of Oxford, United Kingdom.
Also based on information gathered through a Freedom of Information request, the report stated that “43% of white students who went on to receive three or more A* grades at A-Level got offers (to study medicine), compared with 22.1% of minority students.”
Back home, we too have an angry lot who suspect that something is fishy about how students are selected to study in a public university.
However, we do not have a tool such as the Freedom of Information Act which could help to clear up matters a little bit.
In the most recent uproar over the failure of some top scorers to secure places at public universities, the same complaints heard over the decade resurfaced.
Health Minister Datuk Seri Dr S. Subramaniam who broke the silence by the Government, announced that the Cabinet had directed the Education Ministry to look into any possible weaknesses in the selection process for entry into local universities.
Calling for transparency in the system, he admitted that something was lacking but that it was not impossible to improve it as there was sufficient mechanism in place to address the issue.
“I think this can be solved with more transparency, for people to know how the selection process is conducted. It’s the system (that is the problem), not so much on the number of places,” he said.
While transparency may be seen as an issue here, the more pressing problem is the jaded view of those who failed to get a place in the system. Many feel a sense of lack of trust in the “meritocracy” system in place.
Some have argued that the meritocracy system currently in place for public university intakes has been more detrimental for a greater mix of students.
A total of 68,702 students with Sijil Tinggi Persekolahan Malaysia (STPM), matriculation or foundation studies qualifications applied for spots at public universities this year — a 7.6% increase compared to applications made last year.
Of these applicants, 73.59% were Bumiputra, 17.56% were Chinese, 5.22% were Indians, and 3.63% were students of other ethnicity.
Meanwhile, of the 41,573 applicants to receive offers, 74.3% were Bumiputra, 19% were Chinese, 4.4% were Indians and 2.3% were of other ethnicity.
If the racial diversity of our campuses is an issue, perhaps more needs to be done in getting qualified students to apply to public universities in the first place.
Even as the ministry assures that it has sufficient mechanisms in places to ensure that applicants are given fair consideration for admission, this is not enough to satiate public debate over the matter.
The conspiracy theories that abound from years ago — racial discrimination and the power of having the right connections — are brought up year after year.
It does not help that some of the ministry’s frontline staff may have been less than professional in easing the ire of disappointed students.
A case in point is a public post made by the Students Admissions Division (UPU) on its Facebook page in reply to one of its possibly irate applicants.
“Since you have ‘blacklisted’ UPU ... would you like the administration to help you cancel your e-Rayuan (appeal) application... (and) here is how you can ‘unlike’ the UPU Facebook page,” read the post, which also listed the student’s reference number for his appeal.
Even if such unprofessional conduct is an isolated incident, this coupled with the lack of transparency will merely allow doubts over the system to fester.PRIYA KULASAGARAN EDUCATE@THESTAR.COM.MY The STAR Online Education 28/07/2013