By Kua Kia Soong, SUARAM Adviser, 1 April 2016

The litany of reasons given by the government for not recognizing the Unified Examination Certificate (UEC) through the years gets more and more bizarre. They used to say that the UEC’s curriculum was not up to the mark. The latest reason is the answer given by the Deputy Education Minister P. Kamalanathan in the Dewan Rakyat who said that the Cabinet in a meeting on Nov 6 last year had decided not to recognise the certificate:

“For now, the government can’t recognise UEC as it is not based on the national curriculum and education philosophy. This is a reality that needs to be accepted as it relates with the nation’s interest and sovereignty.”

He said that out of the 11,332 students who sat for the UEC last year, 3,000 of them also sat for the Sijil Pelajaran Malaysia (SPM). Kamalanathan added that only 82,000, or 3.7%, of the total secondary school pupils in Malaysia would be sitting for the UEC.


This could be the April Fool’s Day headline for a Malaysian newspaper. But indeed international schools using English and other foreign languages have proliferated in our country in recent years. This is from our ‘Economic Transformation Programme’:

“As Malaysia grows into a developed nation, it also needs to increase the number of international schools to accommodate the education needs of the influx of expatriates and returning population. To-date, a total of 81 international schools are in operation nationwide, with the need for international schools will be expected to be concentrated in Greater Kuala Lumpur and growth corridors such as Iskandar Malaysia, located in the state of Johor. This EPP aims to position Malaysia as a destination of choice for parents seeking foreign education for their children. At the same time, this EPP will allow Malaysia to benefit from the foreign exchange income earned from international school student spending…The total enrolment, however, is 33,688 students, which is still below the target of 75,000 students by 2020.”

Now, if this concerted effort to promote foreign schools in Malaysia is not seen to be a threat to national sovereignty, why should the Malaysian Independent Chinese Secondary Schools (MICSS) be seen as a threat to sovereignty?

Malaysian Chinese Secondary Schools have existed since 1923

For those who are unfamiliar to our nation’s history, Chinese Secondary Schools have existed in our country ever since 1923 when Chung Ling School of Penang started its Secondary-level classes. (Kua Kia Soong, ‘The Chinese Schools of Malaysia: A Protean Saga’, 2008:25) At Independence in 1957, there were some 86 Chinese Secondary Schools in Malaya. (Kua Kia Soong edited, ‘Mother Tongue Education of Malaysian Ethnic Minorities’, 1998:72)

It was only after the 1961 Education Act that many of these schools were forced to become English-medium (yes! Not Malay-medium) at the time. Only 14 Chinese Secondary Schools remained as “Independent” schools. It was after the “Independent Schools’ Revival Movement” in the Seventies that the number of MICSS climbed to 60 schools. In 1975, when the MICSS decided to hold its first Unified Examination, the Chinese education leaders were summoned to Parliament by then Education Minister Dr Mahathir and were told in no uncertain terms to cancel the examination “or else…!”

The Chinese education leaders carried on regardless of the consequences and the UEC has been held every year since. To date, there has never been a leak in any UEC examinations and the curriculum and marking of exam scripts are carried out every year with professional precision. Today, more than 400 foreign tertiary institutions around the world recognize the UEC and our MICSS students are found in countries all over the globe, including France, Germany and Russia. Ever since the Eighties, the National University of Singapore has been poaching hundreds of top UEC students not only for their academic excellence but also for their trilingual capabilities in an effort to balance the cultural mix of their Anglophile Singaporeans.

Putrajaya should look East for UEC recognition

The Sarawak Chief Minister Adenan has recently said that the Ministry of Education is stupid not to recognize the Unified Examination Certificate (UEC) of the sixty Malaysian Independent Chinese Secondary Schools (MICSS), a certificate that has been recognized by the top universities in the world since it has led to a brain drain of our talented human resources. Compared to high-tech brainstorming and money-spinning Putrajaya, Adenan in our East Malaysian backwaters has demonstrated to West Malaysians what a savvy and enlightened politician he is. Our West Malaysian dinosaurs certainly have a lot to learn from our Eastern brethren.

How do foreign students get admitted into Malaysian institutions?

We are all aware of the fact that our local public and private higher learning educational institutions enroll students from all over the world. A simple question to the Education Ministry will show that the reason for not recognizing the UEC is completely untenable, namely:

How does a student from Kazakhstan or Bosnia or China gain admission into Malaysian tertiary education institutions when their respective education systems do not follow our national system?

And which aspect of the National Education System is the UEC syllabus alleged to not follow? It cannot be in Maths and Science; nor can it be Geography since the Malaysian education system has almost obliterated Geography from its syllabus. Can it be in History? Is the History syllabus of the UEC not “Malaysian” enough? If that is the case, how can any foreign student from any part of the globe qualify to enroll in a Malaysian tertiary institution since their syllabus cannot be as “Malaysian” as that of the UEC!

Academic accreditation of education institutions and certificates is what the Malaysian Qualifications Authority (MQA) has been set up to do in the first place! One assumes that the government recognizes all foreign educational certificates based on their accreditation by the Malaysian Qualifications Authority (MQA). How else do foreign students gain admission into our institutions of higher learning? Thus, a student from the PRC can enter a Malaysian tertiary institution based on the PRC’s secondary school leaving certificate. One presumes that our MQA, which is amply staffed, would have done an accreditation of the PRC’s relevant certificate.

Suspending a purely professional decision for 40 years!

Thus, if the MQA is a professional accreditation institution without political constrictions, it would spell out in no uncertain terms what its audit of the UEC has concluded. It does not matter if the requirements of the MQA are far more stringent than the National University of Singapore’s – it just has to spell out in no uncertain terms what the results of that audit are! The government cannot simply suspend a purely professional decision for more than forty years!

It should be pointed out at the outset that, in sharp contrast to foreign students, BM and English are compulsory language papers in the UEC and many MICSS schools also run the SPM at the fifth secondary year (The MICSS is a six-year secondary school system). This easily demolishes the myth that MICSS students only study in the Chinese medium.

To be fair to our civil service and local tertiary institutions, if they require SPM credit in BM for UEC holders, that is reasonable. Nevertheless, the academic accreditation of the UEC by MQA is a totally separate matter altogether.

Malaysians should also know that there are hundreds of non-Chinese students in the MICSS and more than 80,000 non-Chinese students in Chinese-medium primary schools of Malaysia. This is in sharp contrast to UiTM which does not admit ANY “non-bumiputeras” into this public institution even though “non-bumiputera” taxpayers have also paid for this institution!

Does UiTM violate national sovereignty? This Bumiputeras-only policy definitely violates the International Convention for the Eradication of Racial Discrimination (ICERD).

Promote integration by recognizing UEC

The truth is that, through the years the UEC has become a political issue since UMNO refuses to recognize the MICSS system because of their mono-lingual agenda, a policy that is holding back creative development of our human resources. Thus, all these years the community has been paying double taxation when, apart from paying income tax, they also financially support this mother tongue education system.

Recognising the UEC will allow MICSS graduates to be admitted into our public tertiary institutions as well as the civil and armed services, which is the stated intention of the government recently. This will help to promote greater integration among Malaysians and also alleviate the financial plight of those MICSS graduates who cannot afford tertiary education in the private colleges or abroad.