Sunday, March 26, 2006

Mediocrity beats Meritocracy

The Mamas & Papas sang the song titled Frustration, which would be most appropriate at this time of the year in Malaysia.

The Star Online reported that the Higher Education Ministry may tighten the entry requirements to public institutions of higher learning (IPTAs) in the coming intake. Ding dong – the Malaysian annual university entrance stoush has begun.

The Minister said: “For students who meet the requirements and are outstanding, their places at IPTAs are guaranteed but probably not in certain courses like medicine because the competition is intense for these courses.”

He didn’t explain why outstanding students cannot be guaranteed a place in medicine if they apply for the medical course. Instead, he wants them to consider other courses that were less popular.

What he meant was the numbers for the medical intake would be limited and perhaps even taken up already, and therefore those outstanding students shouldn’t be surprised or upset if they aren’t accepted.

Recently I was talking to some friends, whose brothers, sisters, nephews, nieces, exceptional students, are aiming for medical course, and gathered the impression they wouldn't be at all surprised if their relatives aren’t accepted. But 'upset', I am afraid they will be, very much so. They are already trying to work out some bank loans through mortgaging of their houses for their aspiring Dr Kildaires to go overseas because they have already assume the worst.

In Malaysia, after years out of challenged unfairness in university selection of students for certain courses like medicine, where exceptional candidates were not given the courses they preferred, very few unsuccessful candidates would believe a single word of what the Minister had said or advised because it looks like the same old same old!

Those students by their academic achievements should have been more than qualified for, and would be accepted in, any medical courses of foreign universities - assuming they have the money or scholarship to go there, especially since the Crimean State College for Medicine was mysterious 'blacked' out (I mean 'blocked' out) for them.

The people responsible for the entry selections keep changing their criteria each year after being challenged. Following the brouhaha in the last two years, where the PM himself had to intervene, they have now included some subjective criteria, making it even more difficult to detect the unfairness.

One of those 'manning the gates' from invasion by the hordes of outstanding students had even proposed a 'blood' test where wannabe medical students would be exposed to the bloody gore of operating theatres to assess the strength of their stomach.

Another, a doctor who I believe was based in the UK even dismissed exceptional academic qualifications as unimportant, while at the same time demeaned the ability of local exceptional students as being inferior to those of UK students with lower grades. Of course he conveniently skipped any asinine comparison of ability for those Malaysian students with mediocre grades. Obviously in his inane Weltanschauung, mediocrity is fantastic while meritocracy is to be sneered at.

Well, that's the quality [or lack of] of those proposed subjective criteria.

In the final analysis, the absence of transparency has been the most damning indicator of suspected bias.

In some Australia univeristies, there are also subjective criteria but these would come only after the preliminary filtering based solely on the academic achievement. Under the old TER score, a wannabe medical student has to achieve at least a score of 99.9, a near perfect academic achievement before getting to smell any of the popular courses like medicine, law, etc.

Basically, a student who doesn't have the required minimum academic qualifications wouldn't be processed towards subsequent assessments where the subjective criteria would then kick in.

The academic achievements must always serve as the prerequisite qualifications for entry into difficult university courses like medicine, to ensure that the students do in fact possess the necessary base knowledge and the academic (mental and attitudinal) discipline to succeed, so that the nation would benefit from the best medical graduates.

This year, obviously the Ministry had decided to launch a preemptive strike to stifle the usual outcry. Already the Deputy PM has informed that not everyone would get a scholarship. While his statement seemed fair, we need to ask who would be the people getting the scholarship.

Alas, Malaysia continues on its Bolehway where mediocrity beats meritocracy hands down.

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