The recent suggestion by our Selangor MB that UiTM (Universiti Teknologi MARA) open up it’s doors to people of other races and foreigners, has been met with all kinds of responses. To those who do not know, UiTM is pretty much a single-ethnic university, which was founded by MARA, a government agency created to funnel direct aid to a specific race. So, suggesting that the university turn away from its founding objectives is practically blasphemous, especially since it involves a racial right.
On one side, we have the people who believe that UiTM is the last bastion of education for their race. It provides its students a university degree and a chance at a life that many may not have otherwise. There is no denying that MARA serves a function. I was initially surprised when I first met several SPM Grade 3 holders who were on MARA scholarships, but after thinking about it a bit, I realised that MARA had a different set of objectives and criteria when awarding these scholarships.
Although such cases are extremely rare, MARA has already opened up entry to its junior colleges and also offers overseas scholarships to non-bumiputera for a decade. So, it is perfectly understandable that some people will feel threatened by the very suggestion of opening up a ethnic based university that is seen as many, as the last chance for some down trodden kids to do good. But what confuses me is the type of response that has come from the non-bumiputera side.
Many have taken this opportunity to vent their frustrations. The credibility of its VC has been challenged, the quality of its students have been questioned and the university itself has been a target of ridicule. Most have taken the stance that the university itself is useless and serves no purpose. Under such intense bias, I can perfectly understand why some 9,000 students of the university have come out in protest and promised to take further action if the sanctity of their institution is threatened.
Personally, I think that none of it is called for. The university has a function and a role, which many of us may disagree with. But while it is performing it’s duty, there is not reason to call it (or any of it’s members) names. The question of opening up UiTM affects more than just a single university, it questions the very existence of MARA. MARA has done a lot of good work in helping the bumiputera out of poverty. So, suggesting to dismantle such an institution, would obviously need to be thought through first.
Additionally, I feel that the very people calling it names and ridiculing the actions of its supporters, would do the very same thing if the situation was reversed. Assuming that the MB had called for the closing down of all vernacular schools instead, I can see the very same kind of irrational behaviour coming from the non-bumiputera of the country. In fact, I can imagine the whole thing flaring out of control, if it were to actually happen.
Personally, I see the MARA educational institutions in the same light as any other vernacular institution. Both sets of institutions are seen as the last bastion of whatever racial identity that they are designed to propagate. This is the crux of the problem. If we are to take apart one, it is only fair that we take apart all the others as well. In fact, I would strongly support this idea, if it was ever mooted. But it will take a suicidal politician to actually suggest standardising everything.