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Wednesday, August 13, 2008

UiTM on the news: A Personal Commentary

It seems like all the mass media ever talked about is race, race and race. Unfortunately, these are not F1 races, but the colour of one's skin variety. Recently, we have the Banting teacher who hurled racial abuses to her students. Then, we have the 300+ protestors who barged in the recent Bar Council forum which intended to resolve legal conflicts surrounding conversions to Islam. And now, we have this UiTM news which are sprawled all over in The Star, with at least 5 articles today. What's next?

Anyway, these 5 articles are:

Open up to non-bumis, MB tells UiTM - http://thestar.com.my/news/story.asp?file=/2008/8/13/nation/22068198&sec=nation

'No need to open up UiTM to other races' - http://thestar.com.my/news/story.asp?file=/2008/8/13/nation/20080813121352&sec=nation

Ministry to discuss idea to allow non-bumis into UiTM - http://thestar.com.my/news/story.asp?file=/2008/8/13/nation/22068417&sec=nation

UiTM slams MB’s proposal - http://thestar.com.my/news/story.asp?file=/2008/8/13/nation/22071647&sec=nation

‘MB can’t open UiTM intake to non-bumis’ - http://thestar.com.my/news/story.asp?file=/2008/8/13/nation/22070255&sec=nation

In case if you are not aware of the background of UiTM, UiTM do have a professional looking website here - http://www.uitm.edu.my/uitm/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=20&Itemid=138. This is how they promote themselves to the world:

UiTM is Malaysia's premier institution of higher learning that has experienced a phenomenal growth since its inception in 1956. The university has expanded nationwide with 3 satellite campuses, 12 branch campuses, 8 city campuses, 19 affiliated colleges and a smart campus for the future. Its formation is based on a vision of outstanding scholarship and academic excellence that is capable of providing leadership in all fields of internationally recognised professional study. This serves as catalyst for greater strides in the development of the university and the nation.

During these years of growth, UiTM has built on the educational infrastructure placed by its founders to a level comparable to many international universities. Today, it draws strength from the initiatives of these leaders to aspire to be world-class in all its endeavors- to explore the frontiers of knowledge, to master new technologies and harvest the abundant riches of diverse cultures, markets and new industries.


UiTM generates, disseminates and advances knowledge within the ever-changing multicultural and technological context of the world. It offers high quality education and vibrant and inclusive learning environment. Students enjoy a rich growth experience, the most influential as well as the most challenging , intellectually and personally. UiTM's education will prepare students that have now numbered about 100,000 to become tomorrow's leader.

UiTM's curriculum is distinctively interdisciplinary and international. Courses remain relevant, rigorous and responsive to our changing world. Our faculty members constantly redefine what they teach and how they teach it, ensuring that the best traditions of the academy are merged with the most current thinking and scholarship in all disciplines.

Wow! Impressive isn't it? For a while, I thought I was dreaming of a university like Oxford.

always maintained that it is alright - in fact even encouraged - for Malaysians to dream big. There's nothing wrong to dream big if its spurs ambition and right actions. If we don't aim high, we'll never improve ourselves. These are good and worthwhile aims - some of the phrases that I have highlighted in red for example.

So, what is incredibly puzzling to me is the intensely angry almost phobic reactions to Selangor MB Khalid's suggestion here, as reported in The Star:

TAN Sri Khalid Ibrahim had urged the Universiti Teknologi Mara to allocate at least a 10% quota for non-bumiputra undergraduates, Tamil Nesan reported.

The Selangor Mentri Besar said this would help generate interest among the youth to further their studies. Universities, he said, should not only generate good students but be reminded that the youngsters were also there to form links with those of other races.

To be honest, having been overseas for 2 decades, and just returned home the last 4 years, I was surprised at how big UiTM has grown to become well over 100,000 students, and even more surprised that over the last quarter of century, it is still 100% Bumiputera students.

In short, I'm surprised that such racial segregation has not only been retained, but is now made worse over the last quarter of century. Is this 52 years (since 1956) of continuous segregation healthy and beneficial to Malaysians in the long run? How will all these 100,000 students turn out after spending their entire key formative years in university mingling and interacting with only students of the same race?

The University claimed that they "aspire to become world class leaders in all its endeavors". "Explore the frontiers of knowledge". "Master new technologies". And the best part to me is "Harvest the abundant riches of diverse cultures".

Which seriously beg the question - in a university like UiTM currently, how does one "harvest the abundant riches of diverse cultures"? By doing the occasional "field study" once a year? Have UiTM decision makers forgotten that we live in Malaysia, a land of many races? Isn't diversity one of our Nation's greatest strength?

Now, don't get me wrong. Word on the street is that these are excellent marketing materials - except the substance may be lacking far behind. For example, one of the most often quoted university rankings is the Times Higher Education - QS World University Rankings 2007. They ranked international universities with a Top 400 ranking, which you can view it here: http://www.topuniversities.com/worlduniversityrankings/results/2007/overall_rankings/top_400_universities/

It appears that unfortunately for UiTM, they are not in the Top 400 universities in the world in 2007, despite their wonderful claim "to a level comparable to many international universities" in their website. To be fair, they never claimed that they aim to produce graduates to that level. The full sentence was "UiTM has built on the educational infrastructure placed by its founders to a level comparable to many international universities". But doesn't that still beg the question - if you have first world infrastructure, shouldn't you have first world graduates? Why aren't the university still in the Top 400 list?

Anyway, for completeness, the four local universities is inside the Top 400 list are:

#246 = University Malaya
#307 = University Sains Malaysia
#309 = University Kebangsaan Malaysia
#364 = University Putera Malaysia

Of course, one survey doesn't not prove anything conclusively. But at the very least, it would surely raise some questions for reflection and introspection isn't it?

Putting aside racial integration points, and viewing these purely from a global competitiveness perspective - could there be benefits from opening up UiTM to non-Bumiputeras including foreign students? What could these potential benefits be?

For example, can anyone aspire to be the best in the world, if they don't expose themselves to international competition? True, sometimes, even athletes need to be gradually built up, before they can compete in the international arena. But the trouble with continuing to use this reasoning for 52 years, is that once they graduated from UiTM they would then be thrusted into the real world, competing internationally - so, at what point in time should the government stop holding their hands?

Don't we want UiTM to create strong and internationally competitive graduates? Isn't this any university's ultimate goal, to create future country leaders who can compete with the best globally?

What is the fear from opening up the university to include a small proportion of the other students that would add to the diversity and collective strength of the entire university? This is very puzzling to me. Is this because "the university" isn't ready? Surely not, since according to the website ...

UiTM has forged linkages with a number of professional bodies, such as the Association of Chartered Certified Accountants (ACCA), UK, Chartered Institute of Transport (CIT), UK, Institute of Chartered Secretaries and Administrators (ICSA), UK, Institute of Marketing UK, Institute of Administrative Management, UK, Chartered Institute of Building (CIOB), UK, and many others around the world. Some of these ties go back a long way, such as with Ealing Technical College in the 60s and Ohio University in the 80s and they have become a benchmark for UiTM's academic programmes and research. Over the years, UiTM has started collaborating with international universities. To date, UiTM has more than 100 partner universities.

So, if the University itself is not the concern, then, is it the students? What and where exactly is the concern? This is extremely puzzling, and I'm sure it is to all Malaysian stakeholders and all Malaysian taxpayers who funds UiTM.

Notwitstanding my own initial thoughts of the possible pros and cons of following the Selangor MB's proposal, I think it is important that those who are in the position of being able to make that decision should carefully weigh the pros and cons of the MB's proposal. It is important to take into account the collective view of the stakeholders which in my mind, all right thinking Malaysians, not just the view of a select few.

However, this is not the main point of my article. My greatest shock is to read the response of our very own Prime Minister. This is what The Star has reported him to say (http://thestar.com.my/news/story.asp?file=/2008/8/13/nation/22070255&sec=nation):

SERDANG: Selangor Mentri Besar Tan Sri Abdul Khalid Ibrahim has no power to propose that Universiti Teknologi Mara (UiTM) be opened to non-bumiputras, Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi said.

What exactly does the Prime Minister mean when he says Khalid "has no power to propose"?

This is an extremely unusual phrase. In English, a reasonable person would think that "everybody has a right to propose". The right to propose is the right to express a view.

To say that Khalid does not have any power to propose is very disturbing. If the Selangor MB is not allowed to propose, then, does our PM expects everyone to always remain silent? Is this culture of "never proposing" a healthy one for our nation in the long term? How can Malaysia climb up the ladder of international and global competitiveness, if our culture is to never question or even propose ideas amongst ourselves and to our leaders?

Perhaps The Star has misinterpreted our PM, after all, The Star is known to have mispublished articles.

Or perhaps, The Star has misheard our PM, since I'm sure our PM knows that everyone has the right to propose. Perhaps the PM meant that Khalid has no jurisdiction or no power to "direct" or "order" UiTM to open the quota. But that must be made clear to the public, that that is an entirely different concept to "power to propose". If we believe in empowering our citizens, then, every Malaysian citizen technically have "the power to propose". Of course, the decision makers also have every right to turn down that proposal.

These sort of comical, yet tragic exchanges that occupies our MSM makes me wonder what progress our country has made since Mar 8 elections. It is certainly sad that our leaders do not seem to have good working relationships so far, even though it has been 5 months already.

Hmmnn .... "Power to propose?"

I must say this is the first time I've heard of this concept.

Unfortunately, I have a feeling that if my overseas relatives and friends were to read this article, they might think that Malaysia is a laughing stock in the eyes of the international world.

It seems we still have this Third World Mentality, despite our stated aim to be a First World Nation by 2020.


lsb said...

Is the disadvantaged really disadvantaged at the end. I was bitter when I was not given a place in local u more than 30 years ago and my Malay friend, did he pass? I dont know was given a place. He is still a good friend and not that fantastic with all the Edu and Govt job.
Most non bumi firms went overseas and are pretty big now Kuok is a case as are many others; YTL, RH and more.
The Bumis stay and received handouts and there are very few real global players. Is the disadvantaged really disadvantaged at the end.
I pity the Bright Bumi, when they talk to me there is always a doubt as to they are bright or Bumi Bright.
It is a reason why we lost Pulau Putih.
My friend son is reading Engineering with a c3 in Maths and a failed in Physics, that is Bumi Bright.

Fusion said...

I think that the quality of graduates produced by UiTM is good because there are alot of corporate people from UiTM. Because you must remember that UiTM (before 1987) sent their student overseas to study. And the opps The Asian Economic Crises was brought upon our lovely nation and we could not send them to France, US and UK for them to study Medicine, Engineering and such, thanks to penyangak mata wang and a fellow which shall remain nameless who helped them. There was no issues before this about UiTM why is the question poping uo now what is the reason. Racial segregation does not exist because we live in a multi cultural and multi ethnic and multi racial and multi religious country. Every time a student goes out they cant help but to be in contact with a person of some other race, so why are we so racially segregated. Is it bad to give those with out opportunity a chance?

Top 400 hundred out of how many uni in the world? The best is Harvard any Ivy League Uni (expensive right?) isnt it wonderful to be rich and be able to go overseas for 20 years and study opps that you.

Shari said...

Even if you paid me I would not send my kids to UiTM. Based on my interaction with grduates from this 'uni' I have found them to be lacking in soft skills and the ability to speak English properly.

Seng said...


You asked "Is the disadvantaged really disadvantaged in the end?"

I believe "every cloud has a silver lining". But when the cloud is not an Act of God, but man-made, there's always room for improvement.

And if you shift the perspective from an individual, to that of the entire nation, then, it becomes worrying. History has shown that in general, out of every 100 who are disadvantaged by man and not God, only a minority may triumph. In my opinion, the "bigger picture" for the nation is uglier and not prettier.

Seng said...


I'm afraid I simply do not follow your claim and reasoning at all. I will just pick 4, otherwise, my reply will be too long.

1. You quote: " I think that the quality of graduates produced by UiTM is good because there are alot of corporate people from UiTM. "

I think this reasoning is largely irrelevant, and insufficient to form an opinion whether UiTM produces good or bad quality graduates.

UiTM has over 100,000+ students. It is the "overall quality" of these 100,000+ students that every taxpayer should be concerned.

Also, "corporate people" is vague, and doesn't necessarily prove quality.

2. You quote: "Racial segregation does not exist because we live in a multi cultural and multi ethnic and multi racial and multi religious country"

I think you are missing the longer time-frame. Consider the full under-graduate period (say 4 years) when these 100,000+ students are in UiTM. During this period, each student might interact with say 100 students.

The question is how many of these 100 students are from the other races? Will it be proportional to what he would experience in the Real World?

Or will it be hugely disproportionate?

And remember, a small group of these 100,000+ students might not even mix with a single student from the other race!

Don't you think the "segregation" is a lot more than if it was a ratio that reflects population mixes?

And more importantly, is this the best preparation that UiTM can give to their students in a multi-cultural, multi-ethnic, multi-racial, multi-religous country like Malaysia?

3. You quote: "Is it bad to give those with out opportunity a chance?"

That's the KEY question. How does one define "those without opportunity"? Is it based purely on race?

4. You quote: "Top 400 hundred out of how many uni in the world?"

Let's not forget 4 local universities made it to this Top 400 list - UM, USM, UKM and UPM. UiTM didn't.

Seng said...

Dear shari,

As you mentioned UiTM students lacking in "soft skills", I am reminded of the unreasonable 5,000+ student protestors to what I think is a small or non-issue with Khalid's proposal.

UiTM decision makers should not fear such a proposal, since Khalid is not a decision maker. Merely a proposer.

There is no need for 5,000+ student protestors as an immediate reaction.

Why are the decision makers so fearful so as to allow these demonstrations?

Yes, it would appear to me that these 5,000+ students do lack in "soft skills".

lsb said...

We are racially segregated because UMNO practices racial politics. When the leaders harp on race, it splits the races. We will only become a real harmonious mix, when the Parties abandon race politics.

The fear to compete, that is the product of Bumi policy and now shackled them in this new bodderless world.

The reaction to a proposal, says a lot about Bumi Bright.

Seng said...

More on University rankings here for future reference - http://blog.limkitsiang.com/2008/08/19/an-open-letter-to-uitm-vice-chancellor/#more-1396

Seng said...

Another good link for future reference - http://educationmalaysia.blogspot.com/2006/07/70-public-university-graduates-jobless.html

Ministry of Human Resources published a table of Unemployed Graduate Numbers by University. It is not comprehensive, but I think should provide a reasonable sample. UiTM has the highest number and highest % of unemployed graduates by University, and more than double the next highest university.