Freeing UiTM

uitmThe 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.

maraPersonally, 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.

Published by

Shawn Tan

Chip Doctor, Chartered/Professional Engineer, Entrepreneur, Law Graduate.

11 thoughts on “Freeing UiTM”

  1. I believe there are also many Grade 3 non-bumis who deserve the very rights to still be able to pursue their education as much as those who have gotten the scholarships from MARA who instead ended up in factories etc. Things are a little different now, we are born, raise in this country and we work and earn the same wages as any Malaysians for many years and for generations. The wealth of the non-bumis does not come from fortunes obtained from unfair competitions anymore throughout the years, but from honest hard work and thriftiness of these people. Surely, you have your own experiences to share but you may be one of the lucky ones given the good results and the opportunities, how about the many rest? whose parents are not as educated, whose parents could not guide, whose parents could not support their education and whose parents do not have the ‘government servant’ advantage to give them the chance to secure scholarships? The 10% may just be the last bastion for them to believe in this government and its institutions, or maybe not? Anyway, I don’t think other vernacular institutions set a 10% only or less entrance for Bumis..are there any?

  2. I’m not certain if there’s any quota but looking at New Era’s intake list, it leaves no doubt that it is also a single-ethnic tertiery education institute. One can argue that it is privately funded, and can therefore do whatever it likes. But then, UiTM is MARA funded, and can also do whatever MARA likes, which is to directly assist the bumiputera. Doesn’t make any of it right, it just makes it so.

    A more logical idea, might be to open up UiTM to other races and foreigners, but making them pay non-subsidised fees. But I don’t see how this is going to sit well with the Malaysian public either, classifying the non-bumis as etranger.

    Now, if you want to take down MARA, that is a different question entirely.

  3. We don’t know the ethnicity of applicants to New Era. But I agree with Shawn regarding the vernacular schools as the last bastion of non-Bumi. Non-bumi can react even worse at times.

  4. Just one question more. ITM and UiTM was set up to give 2nd and 3rd graders Bumis chances to pursue diplomas and degrees. Given that we accept UiTM would never even give out the 10% entrance (coz of some ‘last bastion’ reason), what other ways can we help those 2nd and 3rd underprivileged non-bumis graders to have a shot at higher education at Malaysian public institutions funded by our taxes? I guess my ‘non-Bumi’ reaction would be of the worst kind when the underprivileged are not cared for, F last bastions of any kind la.

    p.s. My apologies for some harsh words above 😛

  5. Aren’t there overseas students at UiTM, though? In the words of a friend of mine:

    “You know what’s funny? Back when I was a student there, I heard that in order for UiTM to gain its world-class status, it needed a more international student population. So there are students from CHINA and Japan, Korea, Middle East etc there (probably in the adjunct institutes but still).

    “I was like, WTF?!! You don’t mind China students but not even your fellow Malaysians?!?!”

    (Oh, but perhaps your point is that UiTM itself is an ethnic-based university and that’s fair, and that it’s enough of a concession to accept foreign/non-bumiputra students at the adjunct institutions?)

    I don’t really see a problem with MARA-funded educational institutions making the advancement of bumiputra their main priority — that is fair enough. I do think 10% is a measly statistic to complain over, but then I would probably think it fair to demand that vernacular schools have a bumiputra or at least non-Chinese student quota. I’m concerned about polarisation … but you only need to look at the racial make-up of the Malaysian student population at Cambridge to make it understandable that some people think race-based educational policies are necessary.

  6. There are places like government polytechnics to go to. There is a whole list of polytechnic institutions on Wikipedia and checking some of their entry requirements reveals that they require only 1 credit and 1 pass to get in. The route will be longer but combining a polytechnic education with some work experience, they can still end up with a university degree at the end of the day. So, any notion that it is the end of the world is utterly false.

    The larger issue remains whether or not those who did not do well choose to continue their education or otherwise. Vocational training is seen by many as a lesser class of education and this may contribute to its low popularity in Malaysia. Some statistics say that 25% of Malaysian Chinese drop out of school by SPM and go into the job market. Now, that is a worrying number.

    I hope that answers your question about government institutions for Grade 2/3 holders.

  7. So the route is longer as compared to UiTM where you can graduate like others who enter other local universities at the same time? Thus, on top of the 25% who left school before SPM maybe another 25% would not pursue it due to the way the system is? Isn’t that a even more worrying trend? Also, although New Era may look like a single-ethnic tertiary education institute, I still don’t believe they have in their college constitutions limiting the number of bumis in their admission like UiTM. Maybe you can prove to me otherwise 🙂 Like your replies btw 😉

  8. There is nothing wrong with taking a couple of years extra to achieve the degree particularly when the few extra years are work experience. The extra few years are time well spent. This will make the graduate more employable than before.

    As for the New Era issue, I wrote a whole new blog entry on it.

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