GEORGE TOWN: An award-winning scholar has spoken against the use of the “social contract” to justify university entry quotas, saying this was not justice but discrimination.
M Nahvin, 23, a recent recipient of the Royal Education Award, said he could not accept arguments that university quotas should be retained because of the “social contract”, the so-called trade-off between the majority and minority ethnic populations of the country.
The term was popularised in the 1980s by then Kok Lanas MP Abdullah Ahmad, but no such document evidencing the so-called social contract exists.
“I was one of the biggest supporters of Pakatan Harapan because I believed that it wanted to bring justice for all, regardless of race or religion,” Nahvin told FMT in an interview.
“But when Anwar Ibrahim became our prime minister, and his answer over the quota system was the social contract, I felt it was not fair.”
He was referring to Anwar’s exchange with an Indian student in August over whether the prime minister would scrap the quota system for university entries.
Anwar said calling for the system to be scrapped would “lead to turmoil in this country”, adding that Malaysia’s history and the “social contract” must be taken into account in the discourse on the Bumiputera quota.
“(But) the ‘social contract’ is not justice. It is racial discrimination. It is upsetting,” said Nahvin, who recently made headlines for his Royal Education Award acceptance speech.
In a video of the speech which has gone viral, Nahvin spoke against the quota system and related how it prevented a late friend of his from entering university, leading the friend into depression.
He also pleaded with the authorities to move towards a merit-based system.
A gradual shift to meritocracy
Nahvin, a doctoral student in computer sciences at Universiti Sains Malaysia, said the quota system should be gradually reduced to make way for merit-based admission.
He said rather than shutting down those who called for the removal of the quota system, the government should spearhead discussions on the matter.
The son of a bus station supervisor and rubber tapper who graduated with a first-class Artificial Intelligence bachelor’s degree said he believed the lack of meritocracy was the main reason for a lack of quality in Malaysia’s education system.
“The people that have the talent, passion, capability, they cannot get in (to university),” he said, adding that he believes many students who obtained university places because of the quota system did not make the most of their opportunities.
“What I am calling for is fairness in education. Whoever gets 10As with good co-curricular records should get to attend matriculation or study the foundation course of their choice.”
Nahvin said although he still believes in Malaysia, he would not rule out emigrating if things did not change.
He said this was not an issue of “Bumiputeras versus non-Bumiputeras”, but the government’s unequal treatment of its citizens, which was divisive in nature.