THE debate on whether Barisan Nasional’s election manifesto grants recognition to the Unified Examination Certificate (UEC) should come to a close after Monday’s remarks by Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak.
His statement also confirmed MCA leaders’ stand that the wording on the UEC in the Barisan manifesto, which had been disputed by some quarters, actually meant that recognition was given to the UEC.
“I can confirm that the recognition of the UEC has been included in the manifesto,” Najib said when launching the redeveloped campus of Kuen Cheng High School on Monday.
This debate on the UEC, a certificate awarded to upper secondary students of Chinese independent high schools by Dong Zong, arose after Barisan’s election manifesto in Bahasa Malaysia was scrutinised by various groups.
For the first time, the Barisan has included UEC as an entry qualification into local public universities in its election manifesto.
But UEC holders must obtain a credit in Bahasa Malaysia and a pass in History in the SPM examination.
Once these conditions are met, entry into Malaysian institutions of higher learning “can be considered” (boleh dipertimbangkan).
Barisan has come under pressure to grant UEC recognition since Pakatan Harapan has also declared recognition for the UEC in its manifesto.
Upon seeing the Barisan manifesto on April 7, some immediately hailed this as good news for Dong Zong and Jiao Zong – two NGOs that have championed Chinese education for more than six decades.
It was also interpreted as good news for MCA, which has worked tirelessly within the government to press for UEC recognition.
MCA president Datuk Seri Liow Tiong Lai has described UEC’s inclusion in the Barisan election manifesto as “a breakthrough”.
But when various experts began to offer their own interpretations, Barisan’s sincerity in giving UEC its long overdue recognition was questioned.
Prominent commentator Tang Ah Chai said “BN is not sincere” in recognising UEC. He pointed out that “boleh dipertimbangkan” meant UEC’s recognition stays at the “can be considered” stage.
But MCA deputy president Datuk Seri Dr Wee Ka Siong, also Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department, said the meaning of “boleh dipertimbangkan” was close to “tiada halangan” (no objection), and this meant “okay” in officialese.
Hua Zong’s president Tan Sri Pheng Yin Huah lent support to Dr Wee when he cited his experience in getting a licence from the Education Ministry for the setting- up of Chung Hwa Chinese Independent High School in Kuantan in 2012.
“The Government’s approval for the establishment of Chung Hwa and UEC exams carried the words ‘tiada halangan’. Hence, there should be no doubt about UEC being recognised by Barisan,” Pheng said in a statement.
But Dong Zong – the key NGO in pleading for UEC recognition – maintains its stand that a pass in the History subject in SPM should not be a condition.
Indeed, the Barisan’s recognition of UEC – though conditional - should be lauded.
This means that UEC holders will have more choices in their selection of universities. For students from poorer backgrounds, the possibility to enter local public universities will mean a lot of relief to them.
Giving such recognition to UEC may even help to stem some of the nation’s brain drain.
As a matter of fact, top-grade UEC holders are now studying in world-class institutions of higher learning such as National Univer-sity of Singapore, Peking University, Tsinghwa Univeristy, Oxford and Cambridge.
Others find their way into universities in Taiwan and China, Britain, Australia and Canada, as well as privately run local Chinese colleges and universities.
As UEC holders are trilingual and have gone through tough training and discipline, they are “targeted” by good foreign universities.
Partly for this reason, China – the world’s second largest economy in need of various talents for its development and modernisation – is keen to grab UEC holders into its universities.
Malaysia is given the highest allocation of Chinese scholarships among Asean members.
Indeed, Singapore was the first to realise the potential in UEC graduates. For the past decade, UEC students have been offered scholarships and study loans even before the UEC results were out.
Most of these Malaysian students are working and settling down in the republic.
And now competing keenly with China and Singapore for UEC holders are Hong Kong and Taiwan unversities.
In sum, the avenues for further studies overseas for UEC holders are aplenty.
Learning Chinese is already an unstoppable global trend, with China expected to be the world’s most powerful nation and richest country within 20 years.
In Malaysia, a number of Malay and Indian parents are sending their children to Chinese schools as they see the economic value of Chinese education.
Hence, it is wise for the Barisan to heed the advice of MCA to take a bold step forward.