Wednesday, June 21, 2006

Malay Engineers, Chinese Accountants, Indian Doctors

If I examine the statistics for admission into universities' critical courses, I cannot but help notice, at least on the surface, the preference of the Chinese, in terms of numbers, for electronic engineering and then accountancy, and with medicine coming in third, when there was a time, in my granddad’s days, they would have preferred civil engineering.

I suppose they are being practical for the times, when the electronic world dominates, and civil engineers may not be so much in demand.

chart from Star Online

The Malays seem to share the Chinese preferences for electronic engineering and accountancy, though they have tucked into second place chemical engineering ahead of being a bean-counter. Relative to other degrees, their participation by percentage in electronic and chemical engineering approximate 10% above their average.

Comparatively, they don’t seem to like dentistry, and I wonder whether it's to do with the limited number of places for that degree, or they just don't want to spend their lives looking into other people's mouths.

The Indians are still going for their traditional preference, namely medicine. Like the other ethnic groups they too have decided to invest in electronic and chemical engineering. Though smaller in numbers in comparison to their enrolment for medical, accountancy and each of the engineering degrees, their presence by percentage in law is relatively high, assuming double the percentage to the average for other courses.

I have no hesitation in saying that medicine is definitely the top profession for Indians. I am not sure why Indians prefer medicine other than their community ‘looks up’ to doctors. A dear friend-brother of mine went to India for his (equivalent of) matriculation and then medical college.

He enjoyed himself so much that he forgot about his studies, and came back in disgrace without any thing to show for his ‘happy’ times there. Er ... wrong, he did come back with a lot of medical and ‘Bai’ jokes.

His dad had put up mucho ringgits in high expectation of a doctor son, but the rascal let him down. Dad was broken-hearted.

Bastard told me what he actually did, cavorting in Simla and having wild parties in Mumbai. He even related funny tales of his surgical training where once he sliced off the penis of a cadaver the students were practising on and placed the appendage in a fellow female student’s handbag. Apparently cadavers were fairly cheap in India, but I wonder how the young lady must have felt when she dipped her hand into her handbag for her lipstick?

He revealed that in Indian medical colleges, there were professional 'patients', people who actually suffered from all sorts of strange diseases or complex ailments, that the university hired as 'examination models' to test their medical undergraduates' diagnostic skills. Those 'patients' knew the medical college system so well that they would, just before the college examination, contact and offer the students a complete list of their ailments for a sum of money, so that the examinees could astound their examiners with their Dr Kildaire-like 'knowledge'.

My happy-go-lucky pal even joined the Indian national cadet corp (something like our National Youth Service), where he had jolly good fun camping, marching, shooting, pissing and hiking all over, but no studying. There wasn't enough time for books or sometimes even attending classes, when there's so much fun to be enjoyed.

The never-say-die bloke eventually took up a different and, fortunately for dad, equally distinguished profession, which allowed him to indulge in his fun lifestyle. Nothing puts a good man down, as he has often preached to me. I spoke regularly with Uncle, his dad, over a nice tumbler of Chivas Regal or Glenfiddich, provided by Aneh (Big Brother, as the rascal liked to refer himself to me). Uncle finally realised his wish to be a mighty proud dad. I am glad for the old man.

If you remember, I did qualify my observation of the university admission figures with the phrase ‘at least on the surface’ because those statistics might not be reflecting the actual preferences of the students.

Higher Education Management Department director-general Prof Datuk Dr Hassan Said - note his title ;-) - commented on the Cumulative Grade Point Average (CGPA), which he said would be worth only 90% of the assessment points for entrance into a preferred course.

He said: “Those with a CGPA of 4.0 but scored zero marks in co-curriculum would lose out to a student with a CGPA of 3.6 who was active in hockey or badminton at state or country level. The latter would get more marks in total than the person who scored 4.0.”

“There were instances of students with a 4.0 CGPA not getting their first choice.”

Prof Hassan was speaking about the government’s decision to 'assess applicants' (nudge nudge wink wink) based on both their academic achievement and co-curriculum involvement (the latter worth 10%) for this year’s public university intake.

On assessment of the latter criteria, the co-curriculum involvement, Prof Hassan said that only a student’s two highest scores from his involvement in associations, sports, uniformed units or national service will be taken into consideration. National service trainees received six points.

He advised that because of the new method, not every student with a CGPA of 4.0 who applied would receive a place in medicine. And don't we know that.

Another evidence that supported my ‘at least on the surface’ remarks has been the case of Renuga Perumal, who scored 5As. She has been utterly disappointed that she was not given her first choice of pursuing law at UM, but instead was offered economics.

However, I must say I am disappointed not to see among the critical courses the contemporary important disciplines of environmental science or, even better, water management science.


  1. Indians, particularly the Ceylonese kind, are quite fond of law too. Perhaps even more so than medicine. As well as the many fields of engineering. Those are the three traditional courses; in descending rank. Slowly but surely accountancy is picking up steam.

    Also, Indians have this certain fascination with the civil service. A bloke with a top civil servant job would be higher regarded than a multi-millionaire owning a multinational.

    As for me, I had to play the accountancy card until the last minute where I announce I'm definitely going to do Economics. I can already feel the looking-down-ness.

    Okay, that's enough stereotypes for one day :-)

  2. I would say at one time the senior public servant was looked up to, but today ...?

    The senior public servant was deemed a mandarin of the Empire, schooled in the hallowed halls of Eton-like elitish colleges, on which the MCKK modelled itself on, graduating from Oxbridge undoubtedly with a 1st Class Honours in Classical Studies.

    Armed with knowledge of Rome's military campaigns of pulverising barbarian tribes and Athenian market-place kedai kopi kong-sam-kok or talking cock (otherwise known as Socratic philosophy) they administered the British Empire after their troops too have subdued the barbaric natives.

    In Australia they even have degree courses catering to such professions, as in Public Policy or Public Administration.

    Then they broke off for tea at 4-ish, sipping their Earl Grey and nibbling the cucumber samnwiches, while the fan-wallahs operate the huge palm leaves to stir the balmy tropical air for their comfort and kong-sam-kok.

    No little wonder that we colonials love that lifestyle.

  3. I live in India and many of us study law and medicine, i know many families which are all doctor or all lawyers. I don't know many engineers, i know a lot of Chinese engineers though!

    Great post!