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.
I've 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.