SELANGOR Menteri Besar Tan Sri Khalid Ibrahim’s suggestion to allocate 10% of Universiti Teknologi Mara (UiTM)’s admission quota to non-bumiputera and foreign students received very wide coverage in the Chinese media.
Oriental Daily’s editorial writer Liew Ching Wen, in his article titled Study in UiTM? on 14 Aug 2008, said such as move would be purely symbolic as the demand for places in higher educational institutes among the Chinese is no longer high due to the falling birthrate in the community.
As it is, he pointed out, many private universities and colleges are worried about the falling student enrolment. In the event that UiTM does open up to other races, he said, it would show that the institute of higher learning is finally taking a step towards openness and academic independence.
Liew said Khalid’s suggestion to open up the quota for UiTM was meant to portray the Pakatan Rakyat’s colour-blind long-term political policies.
However, the issue was politicised with the coming of Permatang Pauh’s by-election, he added.
Liew pointed to the example of Mara junior colleges, which were set up specifically to train bumiputera. This changed six years ago, when the government opened 10% of the enrollment quota to non-bumiputera.
After an initial flurry of Chinese parents — with the encouragement of the MCA — sending their children to the junior colleges, demand tapered off before falling as the students found the lifestyle inconvenient. The fact that many non-bumi SPM high scorers were unable to obtain a place in the universities of their choice also resulted in the 10% quota going unfilled.
“If UiTM were to open its quota to non-bumiputera students, Chinese parents may well hesitate to let their children apply for a place here after considering the insular culture of the campus,” he said.
Wu Qi Chong writes in Sin Chew Jit Poh’s opinion page an article titled A Long Way to UiTM Openness, saying that the Chinese community may not be familiar with UiTM as it only offers enrollment to bumiputera students.
He said UiTM’s significance to the Malays, which hinges on two factors, is not easily understood by the Chinese community.
Firstly, it preserves the quota of bumiputera and ensures that meritocracy is not practised on campus. He pointed out that the Malays need not worry too much, as the dual-enrolment system practised in the country (whereby a large proportion of Malay students enter university via the matriculation programme, while fewer non-Malay students get through the tougher requirements of the STPM) ensures that the number of students entering tertiary institutes is strictly controlled. Many are not aware that when the government announces the data on students’ enrolment rates based on gender, race and courses, UiTM is not included.
Secondly, UiTM helps to ensure that bumiputera are well represented in popular and professional courses.
Wu stated that the opening up of the student quota of UiTM does not benefit those in power, and hence it is not likely such a suggestion will ever be taken further. The dream of an open UiTM will never materialise, he said.
One of the Sin Chew’s readers commented via SMS that since taxpayers’ money is used to build public universities, an institute like UiTM which caters only to bumiputera impinges on the other races’ education rights. Plus the fact that such places become a breeding ground for racism.
Another writer from Sin Chew, Ping Xing, said no one has ever doubted with the quality of UiTM graduates or the competitiveness of UiTM. He said Khalid’s suggestion to admit non-bumiputera and foreign students into UiTM was to open up the worldview of the students, especially in the era of globalisation.
He pointed out that the public knows UiTM was set up for Malays and bumiputera; hence, the other races have never pressured the government to consider opening it up to the rest. He said Khalid’s opinion should be studied from the academic perspective, and the issue should not be racialised or politicised.
In Kwong Wah Yit Poh, columnist Ng Miew Luan wrote that it is hard to understand why some UiTM students reject diversity, given that Chinese schools welcome the enrolment of students of all races, and national schools hold Mandarin classes.
She said this indirectly reflects the quality of certain students’ mindsets, and questioned the reason for their protests, citing racism as the driving force behind it.
Even more worryingly, she wrote, Minister of Higher Education Datuk Seri Khaled Nordin used “sensitive issue” as a reason to reject the mega trend of globalisation.
“Our leaders brand all these issues as being racially sensitive, thereby making it taboo to discuss in public. Labeling things as ‘sensitive’ is merely the tactic of politicians playing up racial politics,” she said.