Malaysia's Indian community cries foul over the scrapping of a quota system which guaranteed a percentage of university places to the country's minorities A new merit-based system for university admission that last month replaced the three-decade old racial quota system has enraged Malaysia's minority Indians after it was revealed only one Indian out of 1,700 applicants had qualified to study medicine at the prestigious University Malaya this year. Under the race-based quota system, an average of 16 out of 200 places at the faculty went to ethnic Indians, for whom a medical degree is a key means to escape poverty and is the ultimate symbol of social success. The Indian community alleged foul play by the government and demanded the reinstatement of the old quota system, at least just for ethnic Indians, saying they needed special treatment similar to what Malays were given, if they were ever to catch up with the other races. Indian parents and community leaders, who had taken pride in producing more doctors than Malays or Chinese despite their disproportionate numbers - 28 per cent of the country's 12,130 doctors last year were Indians - have lodged police reports and demanded that the government reveal the grades of 96 Malays and 63 Chinese who were admitted to the faculty this year. The number of Chinese medical students had dropped by 12 per cent this year. The remaining 40 places in the faculty are offered to tribal groups, private and foreign students. 'It is quite impossible that out of 200 places, only one Indian student has qualified. This does not make sense at all because it does not reflect the situation in the country,' said Loke Siew Fook, an education expert in the opposition DAP party. 'Traditionally, Indians have always excelled in the medical field ... this case has given rise to a lot of suspicion.' Xavier Jayakumar, leader of the National Justice Party, said: 'It is a slap in our face.' Previously, university entrance was based on a rough racial quota of 60 per cent Malays, 30 per cent Chinese and 10 per cent Indians and others. But this year, when 125,000 students applied for the 32,700 places available in 17 public universities, the government said student grades were the only criteria. Among the successful applicants, 68.9 per cent were Malays, 26.4 per cent Chinese and 4.7 per cent were Indians - percentages that roughly correspond with their respective population sizes except for Indians, who make up about 9 per cent. Merit-based admissions were implemented after a study in March revealed alarming lack of competitiveness among students, low academic standards and widening racial polarisation in schools. But for the two million Indians, mostly descendents of indentured labourers brought by 19th-century English rubber planters, a merit-based system could not have come at a worse time. Indian community leaders have argued the affirmative action that benefited native Malays should be extended to them because of their low socio-economic standing. But the answer has always been that special help is only for natives. Even during the boom years of the 1990s, when most other races benefited economically, the majority of Indians remained trapped in the plantations, earning low wages as unskilled labourers. Denison Jayasooria, director of the Yayasan Strategik Social, an Indian think-tank funded by the government, said: 'The Indian socio-economic position has worsened considerably since the economic downturn in 1997. Indians have to compete with over a million foreign workers and there are fewer jobs now and they pay less compared to before 1997.' Social activist M. Varatharajoo said the removal of the quotas had come at the worst possible time, with Indian youths taking to drugs, crime and violence to escape grinding poverty. Samy Vellu, president of the Malaysian Indian Congress, said: 'We are really unhappy ... Our community is poor and backward and we need some kind of a quota system to help us move forward.' But the government of Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad is set on phasing-out affirmative action even for native Malays because he feels it retards growth, kills competitiveness and creates dependency. Since 2001, Dr Mahathir has been warning Malay students that they must compete with Chinese or suffer reverses. 'Malay students had developed a do-or-die mindset and the new meritocracy system has benefited them ... They have earned their places in the universities,' said Hassan Said, director general of the Education Department. He denied allegations the merit system was lopsided and favoured native Malays. He said that under the new system, the student's race was not even entered into the computers. 'Admission is based entirely on academic grades,' he said. However, few non-Malays, who have suffered long years of institutionalised discrimination, are convinced the government is telling the truth. 'Most people find it impossible to believe that only one Indian has qualified ... it is incredible, we don't believe it,' said N. Gobalakrishnan, leader of the Indian wing in the opposition National Justice Party. The government has yet to respond to demands to make public the grades of all students admitted to the medical faculty. Officials say releasing the details is a tedious process and probably unconstitutional. The government might brief community leaders behind closed doors and show everything to convince them, they said. For the Chinese community that has fought hard and long for a meritocracy, the key issue is transparency and a single university entrance examination for all students. In a letter to the government on Monday, the opposition DAP party said university admission is based on grades from three different examinations. The bulk of Malay students enter universities through a matriculation examination - exclusive to Malays - that non-Malays say is less tough than the exams for other racial groups. 'The exams are different and the grades are different ... It is like comparing apples with oranges,' said DAP chairman Lim Kit Siang. The DAP recommends that 80 per cent of seats be awarded based on merit but judged from grades from one common entrance exams for all students. They say the remaining 20 per cent of places should be reserved for disadvantaged communities. The uproar over medical seats is just one of several disputes arising out of the government's efforts to overhaul the education system that have enraged minority populations in recent months. The national school system is dying, Dr Mahathir has said, because Malays find it un-Islamic, preferring private Islamic schools while non-Muslims avoid government schools because they see it as too Islamic, preferring their own vernacular schools. 'We want every Malaysian back in a single, revitalised and secular national school system based entirely on merit,' Dr Mahathir said.