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Malaysia: Time for a common university entrance exam?

STPM examination

Is it time for the Ministry of Education to seriously consider having a common university entrance exam as a long term solution to the problem of top scorers not obtaining places in local universities?

Gerakan Education Bureau chairman Lau Chin Hoon certainly thinks so on the basis that the present dual system for entry, namely the STPM and matriculation, has become a source of discontentment for some despite a more merit based intake.

“A 4.0 CGPA (Cumulative Grade Point Average) in matriculation and a 4.0 CGPA in STPM is simply not on the same level. In terms of parameter procedure they are two entirely different examinations. That is why, we should standardise to a single entrance exam,” he explained.

This is due to the fact that the STPM is affiliated with the Cambridge Local Examinations Syndicate while the matriculation is based on a combination of coursework, examination and lecturer evaluation.

He said without a unified entrance exam people would always perceive there to be a lack of transparency in the selection process as there were no immediately available percentages of intake from each system.

“If there is a unified entrance examination, people can accept the rejection of their applications. There is no doubt that certain places should be reserved for those with socio-economic disadvantage but such an exam will ensure greater transparency,” added Lau.

Common entrance exams are the norm globally. In the US, it is called the Standard Assessment Test (SAT), in China, The National Higher Education Entrance Examination or Gaokao while South Korea has the College Scholastic Ability Test otherwise known as Suneung.

He said even though efforts had been made to improve the STPM format this year, it could not resolve the issue of top scorers being denied places in public universities.

The old format STPM examination was last held in 2012, as three years ago the Education Ministry had decided to revamp the format from one final exam to include school-based and end of semester assessments in order to encourage more students to sit for it.

A total of 51,673 students sat for the examination last year of which 442 scored perfect 4.0 CGPA.

“In Malaysia, as is the case in most Asian countries, we tend to study to pass rather than focus on ambition or career placing,” he said.

His views were supported by Principal Research Fellow at the Institute of Ethnic Studies, Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia, Datuk Dr Denison Jayasooria who agreed that Malaysia should introduce one common entrance examination while ensuring that those with socio-economic disadvantages were also given opportunities to enter public universities.

“It should be either matriculation or STPM, not both. The alternative could be funding them to pursue the courses they want in either a public or private university or even overseas, just like the UK voucher system,” he said.

The Deputy vice-chancellor of Laureate International University, Prof Datuk Dr Ibrahim Ahmad Bajunid felt that there appeared to be a misperception or perhaps even a myth that every top scorer should enter a local public university.

He pointed out that the democratisation of higher education in the 1990s had created approximately 500,000 additional places for bachelors degrees.

Currently, about 900,000 students are pursuing tertiary studies in 20 public universities, 33 private universities and university colleges, 4 foreign university branch campuses, 22 polytechnics, 37 community colleges and about 500 private colleges.

“The government has amended the regulations to provide for equal treatment of both private and public universities.

“Actually, the issue of those with excellent results not getting places in universities is moot once you go to private universities. We have enough space. I think this is a non-issue,” he said.

Pointing out that the top university in the United Kingdom was actually a private university, he added that the only issue was the availability of financial assistance for students who excelled.

“Students with good results should be provided the financial assistance to pursue higher education,” he said. (New Straits Times)

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