I should know about the UEC. When I first came back to Malaysia from my studies in the UK in 1983, I was contracted by the former chairperson of the United Chinese School Committees' Association of Malaysia (Dong Zong), Lim Fong Seng to enable the UEC to be recognised all over the world.
This I did with alacrity and within two years, notable universities in the US, Canada, UK, Australia, New Zealand and Singapore had recognized the UEC after the standard accreditation procedures.
In most cases, their representatives visited our office and the Independent schools of which there were 60 in West and East Malaysia.
Occasionally, I went to visit the key educational institutions abroad.
Today, more than 400 foreign tertiary institutions around the world already recognise the UEC and our MICSS students are found in countries all over the globe, including France, Germany and Russia.
Ever since the Eighties, the National University of Singapore has been poaching hundreds of top UEC students not only for their academic excellence but also for their trilingual capabilities in an effort to balance their other Anglophile Singaporeans.
Academic accreditation, not racial politics
So why has the BN government doggedly refused to recognise the UEC all these years?
In 1975, when the MICSS decided to hold its first Unified Examination, the Chinese education leaders were summoned to Parliament by then-education minister Dr Mahathir Mohamad and were told in no uncertain terms to cancel the examination "or else...!"
They carried on regardless of the consequences and the UEC has been held every year since then without ever springing a leak in any examination papers!
Clearly, the reason for Umno's position is their hegemonic position of imposing a Malay-centric education system with Bahasa Malaysia as the main medium of instruction.
It should be pointed out at the outset that BM and English are compulsory language papers in the UEC and many MICSS schools also run the SPM at the fifth secondary year.
Consequently, through these years the UEC has become a political issue since Umno refuses to recognize the MICSS system which is wholly supported by the community and not by the government.
The community is thus paying double taxation when, apart from paying income tax, they also financially support this mother tongue education system.
Should the recognition of UEC remain a political issue when the BN government recognises all foreign certificates based on their accreditation by the Malaysian Qualifications Authority (MQA)?
How else do foreign students gain admission into our institutions of higher learning?
The fact that the MQA has yet to do a proper accreditation of the UEC when other foreign universities have done so since the Eighties is not saying very much for '1 Malaysia' is it?
Thus an issue such as the recognition of the UEC should from the very start have been easily handled by the MQA instead of being treated as political football by politicians all these years.
As we have seen in the recent harassment of Suaram through the government's directive to six government agencies, there should be a standard operating procedure for government agencies such as the MQA to carry out their job - in this case, the accreditation of the UEC - without political interference.
The result of the accreditation process should then be made known and the UEC recognized or rejected accordingly. QED!
New Kuantan MICSS and UEC
As a political gesture to win the Chinese vote, the BN government has recently approved a new secondary school in Kuantan to be governed by the Chinese community there although the letter of approval has stipulated that the new school would run the SPM.
Prime Minister Najib Razak(left) has since said that these Kuantan students can sit for the UEC (The Sun Oct 18,2012).
The sincerity of the government on this issue is in serious doubt when we bear in mind that to date hundreds of operators have already been given permits to open English-language international schools in Malaysia.
Why the glaring double standards? Why do private English-language schools have a special immunity that non-profit-making community-run MICSS cannot enjoy?
Dong Zong, under the leadership of Triple Doctor Yap Sin Tian (he has three PhDs!) has tried to maintain a "purist" position by insisting that this new Kuantan school is not strictly an MICSS just because of the stipulations of the approval letter.
They have said that therefore, Dong Zong would not allow its students to sit for the UEC.
As the person contracted by Dong Jiao Zong to help set up the tertiary-level New Era College for the MICSS in 1995, I see these as hypocritical and double standards.
The stipulations for the new Kuantan secondary school are no different from the approval given to New Era College in 1997 - they merely reflect the BN government's (problematic) educational policy.
The Dong Jiao Zong leadership did not reject the offer to New Era College then but proceeded to start the college in 1998 according to the curriculum we had planned.
It is therefore shocking that even after the Prime Minister Najib Razak has said that these Kuantan students can sit for the UEC and the new stakeholders in the Kuantan school have committed to be an MICSS, the Dong Zong leaders still insist that they will not allow the Kuantan school students to sit for the UEC.
Such a legalistic position is reactionary and would make the Father of the UEC, the late Lim Fong Seng, turn in his grave.
The reasons behind Dong Zong's "purist" position is highly dubious when we consider that some MICSS such as the Kuala Lumpur Chong Hwa, Kuen Cheng and others have been running the SPM concurrently with the UEC all these years.
Since when have the Dong Zong leaders been so concerned to strictly follow the government's definition of a MICSS?
Making UEC widely available
From a visionary point of view, Dong Jiao Zong should be lobbying for the UEC to be as widely available as other examination certificates at least in Malaysia and Southeast Asia instead of restricting its currency as in the case of the new Kuantan School.
To conclude, the reputation of the UEC will be intact as long as the examination board is professionally run, the quality of the MICSS is maintained and the certificate is associated with academicians and leaders of integrity.
Chinese educationists should never fail to bear in mind that, of all the values instilled in students by education, perhaps none is as essential as academic integrity.
Academic dishonesty - such as the pursuit of bogus PhDs - is a serious violation of the trust upon which an academic community depends.
KUA KIA SOONG is a former principal of community-run New Era College.