KUALA LUMPUR, April 7 — Malaysians failed to gain admission into the world’s most prestigious university for the second year in a row due to a slide in the quality of applicants, said Harvard University’s selection panel chief for Malaysia.
Not only did no Malaysian student receive an offer letter but none apparently was even good enough to make it to the interview rounds.
This comes after a controversy erupted over the quality of Malaysian education when Education Minister Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin pointed to a World Economic Forum report to claim that Malaysians had a higher standard of education compared to that in some advanced countries.
Opposition lawmaker Tony Pua later rubbished Muhyiddin’s claims, pointing to another international study — the PISA 2009+ — that showed Malaysian students lagging far behind western nations in terms of literacy, mathematics and scientific understanding.
Datuk Dr Goh Cheng Teik, who leads the Harvard team that interviews prospective Malaysian students, said he was informed the quality of applicants had deteriorated.
“I called the Harvard College of Admissions Office and was told that although they received applications from Malaysian students, no one was shortlisted for interviews as they are not considered competitive enough,” he was quoted as saying by The Star.
A two-year absence from incoming Harvard freshman classes is enough to raise concerns over the quality trends of Malaysian education given that at least one Malaysian had been admitted to Harvard every year from 1985 to 2010.
A statement from Harvard’s interview panel showed that Malaysia was only fourth among Southeast Asian countries in terms of enrolment in the Ivy League institution.
Singapore has the highest number of Harvard undergraduates with 18, followed by Thailand with seven, Vietnam with six, Malaysia with five and Indonesia with two.
SMK Damansara Jaya alumnus Avinaash Subramaniam, who was awarded a full scholarship, was the last Malaysian accepted at Harvard in 2010.
Harvard was ranked the world’s best university for seven consecutive years by Times Higher Education (THE) until it was bumped into second place by the California Institute of Technology last year.
It was ranked the No. 1 university in the world last year by the Center for World-Class Universities of Shanghai Jiao Tong University.
Some 34,950 applicants were received by Harvard for the 2016 graduating class and only 6.3 per cent were accepted.
According to the World Economic Forum’s global competitiveness report that was cited by Muhyiddin, Malaysia was ranked 14th among 142 countries and second in Asean for quality education.
Pua pointed out however that the WEF study was merely based on the opinions of 87 local businessmen who were asked to rate on a scale of one to seven how much they felt the country’s educational system has met the needs of a competitive economy.
He noted that the PISA report said that only “56 per cent of students are estimated to have a proficiency in reading literacy that is at or above the baseline level needed to participate actively and productively in life”.
For mathematics, the PISA study revealed that only 41 per cent of students are proficient in the subject at the baseline level. For science, 57 per cent made the baseline level.