UiTM admissions backlash sign of misplaced priorities, say academics

THE backlash over a proposal to open a Universiti Teknologi Mara medical course to all Malaysians reflects a bigger issue of declining academic quality and misguided education policies, say academics.

(The Vibes) – They said the country’s education system is in need of reform.

Sociologist Dr Sharifah Munirah Alatas said the government must speed up the much-needed changes.

She said it is worrying that the university students are fearful and suspicious of their non-Bumiputera counterparts, saying such an attitude must be addressed at once.

“If anything, more of our Malaysian children and youth – and their teachers and parents – must be exposed to more courses on cross-culturalism, discussions on diverse religions, and how various civilisations around the world thrived and the reasons for their demise,” said the visiting professor at Indonesian International Islamic University.

She was responding to the UiTM student council’s opposition to a suggestion to temporarily allow non-Bumiputera students to enrol in the university’s postgraduate cardiothoracic surgery programme. Munirah said that while the students had every right to protest, their fears were misplaced.

“First and foremost, the UiTM students have every right to organise the protest, even though it is grossly misleading. Provided they are peaceful, let them dress in black if they want. If they do not cause uncontrollable chaos or violence, let them protest.”

“However, from my perspective, the protest is terribly misplaced, precisely because it is premised on a tangential issue of ethnic rights, destructive communalism, and divisive thinking,” said the daughter of renowned scholar Syed Hussein Alatas.

UiTM was established in 1956 as the Rural and Industrial Development Authority Training Centre, a brainchild of the late Datuk Onn Jaafar — a founder of Umno — after a 1951 visit to Ceylon, as Sri Lanka was then known, to learn about rural development programmes.

In 1965, it changed its name to Maktab Majlis Amanah Rakyat to aid and train the Bumiputera in business and industry. In 1967, it was renamed Institut Teknologi Mara.

It achieved university status in 1999.

Its students were recently up in arms over the Malaysian Medical Association’s advice to UiTM to temporarily open its postgraduate cardiothoracic surgery programme to people of all races to meet an acute shortage of medical specialists, especially cardiothoracic surgeons.

The suggestion was shot down by the university’s student body. UiTM later said that it would stay true to its mission to “empower the Bumiputera” and not change its student admissions policy to allow all races to enrol.

Munirah said the nation should be working to resolve the problem of shortages in the medical profession instead of racialising it.

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