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LETTER | Quit the endless bumiputera congresses

LETTER | Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim is scheduled to address the bumiputera economic congress in January next year. We have had far too many of these “congresses,” which tells us something of their value or lack of.

These congresses serve no purpose other than for the inevitable shrill vocalisations of our community’s frustrations. The same tired themes and ineffective remedies would be regurgitated ad nauseam.

As Anwar will be visiting China next week, learn from that nation’s recent history. In the early years of China-America rapprochement, the United States had sent a low-level delegation to Beijing.

To the surprise of the delegates, Chinese leader Deng Xiaoping inserted himself and asked the head of the American delegation to phone President Jimmy Carter with the request to accept about 300 Chinese students into American universities.

Dumbfounded by the unusual request as well as Deng’s unexpected appearance, the leader of the American delegation phoned his immediate superior in Washington, DC, who in turn directed him to call the White House.

Imagine Carter being awakened in the wee hours of the morning by a phone call from Beijing, and at the height of the still very frosty Cold War. From a low-ranking official to boot! Nonetheless, Carter acceded to the request as it came from Deng.

Today, thousands of Chinese students study in America so much so that they are now considered a security threat. Meanwhile, China is poised to overtake America economically and in many other spheres.

That is the consequential difference between Deng sending China’s best and brightest to elite American colleges versus Mao Zedong earlier banishing them to rural “re-education” camps. There is a lesson there for Malays. Sending thousands of Malays to Arab countries and introducing “hadith study modules” in national schools are but our equivalent of Mao’s re-education camps.

Instead of addressing at another congress, Anwar should gather the headmasters of residential schools with this directive: Send at least three of your students annually to top Western universities or you would be out of a job. How to achieve this objective would be up to them.

Likewise, a similar mandate to the vice-chancellors of public universities. Direct their STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) departments as well as that of English, economics, and philosophy to send one doctoral candidate annually to top Western institutions.

How best to achieve this would again be left to the academics. That would be far more productive and funds well spent instead of the current obsession with rankings and publishing in journals.

A decade hence when Malaysian judges, prosecutors, and attorneys-general would come out of top law schools, we would see fewer of these DNAA (discharge not amounting to acquittal) cases.

Likewise, when the government’s chief secretaries have doctorates from other than Oklahoma State or New Hampshire State but MBAs from the Harvards, only then would we be spared another One Malaysia Berhad.

No guarantee of course, but a good bet. Right now Anwar is blamed for their incompetence. He bears that only in so far as he has not been swift in getting rid of them.

Anwar appreciates the value of quality education. Privileged to have been a visiting faculty fellow at such institutions as Oxford and George Washington, he knows the quality of the discourses and intellectual climate on those campuses.

We spent billions on Malay special privileges with little to show for that. We send thousands to mediocre colleges abroad, an exercise in membajakan lallang (nurturing weeds). Likewise, with Malays pursuing Hang Tuah or revealed knowledge and prophetic traditions. We already have a glut of them.

Reward excellence. Give scholarships to Malays admitted to the top 100 global universities (Britain’s Oxbridge, Canada’s McGills as well as America’s Stanfords and the Ivy League) regardless of the field of study chosen. If they are smart enough to be accepted there, they would be better judges of what is best for them, not pompous local Public Service Department officials.

Also, reward those admitted to the next tier but still prestigious top 200-300 universities by giving them full scholarships but only if they were to pursue STEM, English, economics, and similar much-needed disciplines.

Choose any other field and they would get a scholarship only if their parents’ income were below a certain threshold. A sliding scale would be applied above that.

Thus, a poor kampung kid accepted to the University of Minnesota (UM) flagship campus in Minneapolis would get a full scholarship regardless of his or her choice of studies. Get accepted to UM’s Duluth campus, however, and you are on your own. Had we done that back then, Malays would today have been spared the likes of Azmin Ali.

As for those qualified only for Universiti Utara Malaysia, they would get study loans but only if they were to pursue STEM and such disciplines as English. No scholarships, period.

Pursue such a policy and within a generation, we would never have any need for another bumiputera congress.

M BAKRI MUSA is a Malaysian-born and Canadian-trained surgeon in private practice in Silicon Valley, California. He writes at

The views expressed here are those of the author/contributor and do not necessarily represent the views of Malaysiakini.