Government and opposition parties alike have been warned against politicising the matter of education, particularly among the Chinese community, in the run-up to the Nov 19 polls as coalitions turn their focus towards the manifestos that will contain their election vows to the public.
Education, an issue close to the hearts of the Chinese in general, featured prominently in campaigns for the last general election, with both Barisan Nasional (BN) and Pakatan Harapan (PH) pledging to recognise the Unified Examination Certificate (UEC) as a qualification for entering local institutions of higher education.
The UEC, issued to students who graduate from Chinese independent high schools, is already recognised by private institutions in the country as well as a number of overseas universities and those in Penang, Melaka, Sabah, Sarawak and Selangor.
However, it is not regulated by the education ministry at the central level.
In its 2018 election manifesto, BN said it would grant recognition for the UEC on condition that certificate holders obtain a credit in Bahasa Melayu and a pass in history in the Form Five SPM examination.
PH meanwhile promised that the UEC would be allowed as proof of qualification for public universities if students also had a credit in SPM Bahasa Melayu.
Today, though, four years later and on the verge of the 15th general election (GE15), the UEC remains unrecognised.
Voicing its disappointment at the matter, the Chinese School Committees Association of Malaysia, better known as Dong Zong, said the UEC was recognised by more than 80 universities worldwide.
"At election time, political parties will move on to Chinese education issues," its president Tan Tai Kim told MalaysiaNow.
"But it's time to give the UEC recognition. Stop turning this issue into another political narrative."
Task force findings
After its historic victory at the May 9, 2018 polls, PH established a task force known as the UEC Policy Task Force (PPDUEC) to kickstart the recognition process.
The PPDUEC spoke to a number of stakeholders on the issue, including Dong Zong.
"They spoke to more than 60 organisations," Tan recalled.
"We provided them with many reports, including on the syllabus and mechanism (of the UEC)."
However, the findings were never presented in Parliament.
In July 2018, just two months after the general election, then deputy education minister Teo Nie Ching reportedly said that she wanted the UEC recognised by the end of the year.
She also said there was no need for the issue to be brought to Parliament for debate.
Nevertheless, the matter was still unresolved at the collapse of the PH government in February 2020.
PH suffered a strong backlash due to its inability to fulfil its UEC vow, along with a number of others, within the course of its 22 months in power.
Today, about a month ahead of GE15, some UEC graduates have mixed feelings about the matter.
Jeremy Sim, 25, said it was "impossible" to get the certificate recognised within just one or two years.
"I believe the ex-deputy minister understands," he added, referring to Teo.
Yiu Jee Gee, who graduated from a Chinese independent high school in 2013, said she would not evaluate the performance of PH or DAP based solely on the UEC issue.
"To me, it seems they were using this agenda," she said.
"Compared to the rhetorical promises during the election, not many practical actions were taken."
Yiu, 27, said she would evaluate DAP from a more comprehensive perspective at the upcoming election before deciding on her support for the party.
Another graduate who introduced herself as Chong said the focus should be on the education system as a whole rather than whether or not the UEC is recognised.
"No doubt, recognition would be the best thing," Chong, 24, said.
"But I believe if this was proposed by parties other than DAP, chances are high that the promise would also be unkept."
In the meantime, she said, UEC graduates would still be able to further their studies at private universities or overseas.
"For a better future, channel the focus and energy to our country's education and economy," she said.