Jimie cheng
A tale of one university – Jimie Cheng

MAY 21, 2014

Comment on his article in:

I read Robert Chaen’s recent post titled “A Tale of Two Universities – Utar and UiTM” with utmost amusement.

Now, Robert’s entire article was basically an attempt to say that UiTM’s Bumiputera-only policy makes its students inferior vis-a-vis graduates of Utar, the MCA-backed university that is open to all races.

What Robert failed to see is that despite Utar’s “open policy”, its student body consist almost entirely of Chinese students.

Utar’s Board of Trustees, University Council and Utar Management is predominantly Chinese. Check its news archive and 85% of the articles are in Chinese.

Therefore, while it may be argued that a more multi-racial student body could lead to better graduates, Robert using Utar as an example is not only flawed but also indicative of the more sinister undertone one senses when reading the article.

Now, on to the matter that bothered me the most. For those of you who missed his attempt at describing UiTM graduates, here are some of the highlights:

* “… graduates from UiTM are in general very one-dimensional, too quiet, and unpassionate. They have difficulty thinking out of the box, are cliquish and don’t mix well with other races and foreigners. They are awkward, quite judgemental and are not accommodating and accepting of other races’ opinions.”

* “A large percentage of resumes we receive from UiTM graduates display poor English. They are not even competent enough to construct a proper English sentence.”

Let these descriptions sink in, just for a moment.

As a UiTM graduate myself, I am well aware of the flaws of my alma mater. There are many things not right about the institution, but there are many things right that many critics do not or refuse to realise.

The institution began life as Dewan Latihan Rida under the Rural and Industrial Development Authority in 1957, but its role as an institution of higher learning began in earnest under the auspices of Mara – a body created specifically to uplift the standards of Bumiputera communities.

In its present form, UiTM offers more than 300 programmes to more than 170,000 students. More than 500,000 graduates have passed through the institution.

What many critics fail to recognise is the progress these graduates have made compared with where they were before and their circumstances.

When I was going through the Pre-Law Foundation Program, I had with me students from the most rural of places you can imagine.

They came from the Felda settlements, the fishing villages, the small satellite towns we no longer pass by since the creation of PLUS.

Some have never completed an English book their entire life. Most have only the basic grasp of the language.

Their starting point disadvantage is not limited to language but also culture. Some were brought up in close-knit communities, with very little exposure to the outside world. Their parents were blue-collar workers, farmers, fishermen, small traders, etc.

And yet, these fellow students of mine have, in some ways, beaten the local odds, and did well enough to secure a place in an institution of higher learning. I watched with a tinge of pride but also full of worry as they plough through the intensive English preparatory lessons we all had to go through.

It was easier for some of us who had the privilege of growing up in more fortunate circumstances, but the same cannot be said for others.

Some failed, but most persevered. Therefore, while it is entirely justified to complain about UiTM graduate’s proficiency in English in general and their lack of social skills, it is also disingenuous to dismiss the progress they have made.

Isn’t that what education is all about – progress and advancement?

I cannot help but wonder, if these students were not given a chance by UiTM, where would they be?

Would they be an active part of the Malaysian economy, working in multinationals, local companies, small enterprises, government agencies or would they languish as a burden on our social system?

Would they uplift the economic status of their family and community or would they be part of our social ills?

And whilst I may talk about progress as if we should accept mediocrity from UiTM because of the student’s background, I would also like to make known that UiTM has produced some of the most prominent personalities in our society.

The current Chief Judge of Sabah and Sarawak, Tan Sri Richard Malanjum, is a graduate of ITM. When he was appointed to the Federal Court, he was the youngest judge to be given that honour.

He was also the sole dissenting judge in Lina Joy’s unsuccessful bid to declare her conversion from Islam as valid. As a judge, of course he is judgemental, but not in a way I think Robert meant.

Perhaps when Robert generalised UiTM students as one-dimensional and too quiet he was thinking about Datuk Zaid Ibrahim, the founder of the largest law firm in Malaysia and prominent political personality who also happens to be an ITM graduate.

Maybe Robert did not realise that Siti Aisah Kamarulzaman, a young UiTM graduate whose father is a night market trader, scored the best ACCA result in Malaysia in 2013, beating 723 other candidates.

Did I also mention she placed 7th in the world? Perhaps, she’s stuck in her box, but it’s a pretty good box from where I’m sitting.

Robert has probably never heard the sweet melodic voice of Yunalis Zarai or better known as Yuna, now promoting her songs in the United States in shows like Jimmy Kimmel and Conan. She is Malaysia’s pride, and she is from UiTM as well.

UiTM graduates have left their mark, whether it’s the world of politics, administration, corporate, entrepreneurship, arts and fashion, but it is the ones we don’t see in the newspapers and magazines that most epitomise the contribution of UiTM towards our nation.

Of course, for every Richard Malanjum, there’s Ibrahim Ali. But that happens at all institutions.

The problem is that the biased and condescending attitude some have towards UiTM students have thrown the discussion about its role and future into something akin of a bar fight where everybody is punching, but nothing is being hit.

My personal point of view is that instead of arguing about opening up UiTM, why not fight towards the creation of a socio-economic public University ala UiTM but open to all underprivileged Malaysians? That will certainly defuse the legal and political repercussions of this endless and pointless debate.

That should give everyone something to think about while I go back to being “quiet, unpassioned, one-dimensional, and hiding inside my box”.

If you are from other races, don’t bother commenting, because clearly I won’t accept your thoughts. Plus, you know that UiTM graduates have problems constructing proper English sentence. Cheers. – May 21, 2014.

* Jimie Cheng reads The Malaysian Insider.

* This is the personal opinion of the writer or publication and does not necessarily represent the views of The Malaysian Insider.


Chaen’s view

BTW, since my article was published, I have actually hired quite a few smart, contributive UiTM interns.

A good rebuttal to my article on “A tale of two universities”:

Jimie Cheng is on fire! Feisty, sarcastic, competitive, and classy too – a male version of Dyana Sofya. I like that a lot! You’ll do very well in Hong Kong and L.A.

I’ll hire you, Richard, Yuna, Siti, and Dyana anytime! You are the cream of the crop. Ibrahim Ali… this one bad apple really spoiled UITM’s and Islam bad name.

Jimie argues well and at the end offers an olive branch of peace. He has class unlike others who have no manners in commenting. I like his ending constructive suggestion that instead of arguing about opening up UiTM, why not fight towards the creation of a socio-economic public University ala UiTM but open to all underprivileged Malaysians?