Malaysia’s Public Universities: Moving Beyond Racial Quotas

While boosting Bumiputera enrolment, Malaysia's racial quotas in universities face criticism for hindering meritocracy and causing brain drain.

After more than four decades, the implementation of these preferential admissions practices for Bumiputera students has resulted in a significant percentage of enrolment 81.9 per cent in public sector institutions, highlighting the policys lasting impact and scale in shaping educational opportunities and demographic representation within Malaysias higher education landscape.While these measures have had successes, they also face criticism for perpetuating racial divisions and overlooking meritocracy.

In 2023, a video of a Malaysian graduate giving a powerful speech at his convocation ceremony went viral and touched the hearts of many Malaysians.

He spoke out against the discriminatory racial quotas at Malaysian public universities, recounting a story about how his deceased friend failed to secure a spot in matriculation despite good academic results. The graduate stressed how the government and public universities should practise meritocracy over divisive quotas.

It is believed the narrative surrounding Malaysia’s racial quotas in education, introduced as part of the broader New Economic Policy (NEP) in the early 1970s, was aimed at promoting economic equality among races.

Yet, preferential practices of selecting Malays for elite administrative roles date back to the colonial period.

These practices were formally recognised in the 1948 Federation of Malaya Agreement and enshrined in Article 153 of the Malaysian Constitution. The shift in 1971 was significant, marking the creation and systematic implementation of a wide-ranging ethnic preferential policy. This policy was manifested in higher education through quota systems for public university admissions to ensure substantial representation of Bumiputera (ethnic Malays and other indigenous ethnic groups in Peninsular and East Malaysia) and the establishment of higher education institutions primarily serving Bumiputera students.

Read more : Devdiscourse


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