A merit-based selection system introduced this year has resulted in more Malays gaining university places, according to Malaysian higher education department chief Hassan Said.
The figure for Malays grew from 55 per cent under the quota system last year to 68.9 per cent this year. Professor Hassan claimed that the government's psychological tactic of removing quotas to get Malay students to work harder had worked.
The proposal to adopt a meritocratic system for a trial year was mooted last year after it was reported that there were not enough Malay applicants to fill the quota set aside for them.
But the paradox of how a greater number of Malays received places, and therefore last year's quotas favouring Malays were exceeded, has not gone unnoticed by educational observers and non-Malay groups, which have become resigned to the government's sleight-of-hand in such matters.
Of the 32,752 places in Malaysia's 17 universities and university colleges, 22,557 (68.9 per cent) went to Malays, 8,665 (26.4 per cent) to Chinese and 1,530 (4.7 per cent) to Indians. The majority of successful Malay applicants were holders of matriculation and diploma qualifications. Most non-Malays gain only the STPM school-leaving qualifications.
Professor Hassan admitted that a new formula had been applied for comparing results in different qualifications. Although he declined to elaborate, he said that disappointed applicants "should not confuse the number of A grades they obtained with the calculation of their total academic marks".
The significance of the Cabinet's announcement that a 10 per cent quota for non-Malays would be applied to public university matriculation courses next year becomes all the more apparent, as it was from such courses that a disproportionate number of extra Malay applicants were admitted.
Despite broad acknowledgment of the continuing fall in Malay academic performance, the government has by virtue of its new formula managed once again to increase the number of Malay higher education places.