Not a good idea to whack UiTM

A LITTLE disclosure first – I lived in Shah Alam for 30 years. From kindergarten to primary school, secondary school and later university, I was pretty much in Shah Alam.

Thus, with a mother, who used to work at the ITM registrar's office, and me being a UiTM Information Technology (IT) degree holder, the following comments are likely to be biased. After all, Shah Alam thrives because of the university and, frankly, as a result has a population that is largely a blend of Malays from all over the country.

Federal Territories Minister Datuk Seri Tengku Adenan Tengku Mansor believes that if you're a "slow learner" you will be placed in UiTM. He has since apologised for those remarks and yet, you had a youth and sports minister saying that this referred to the older ITM generation before the revamp.

Apparently, before it became a university, this institution churned out lesser graduates. For better or worse, Khairy Jamaluddin might want to take that up with the former graduates. Perhaps even ask his boss whose late father founded the institution.

The Mara University of Technology (UiTM) has always been an institution established to assist the goal of creating a bumiputra middle class. And frankly, having 25,720 graduates as of October 2016, it is wired into a huge political voter base across the country from Perlis to across the South China Sea to Sabah and Sarawak.

Thus, my first point, do you really want to anger such a crowd this close to a general election? Perhaps that thought alone triggered the apology.

Second, there are many graduates from the university not just serving in their own companies as entrepreneurs, but also in government-linked companies and the government. As a pressure group, the UiTM alumni may now be in the hundreds of thousands.

Of course, if you add those who benefited from overseas education scholarships from Majlis Amanah Rakyat (Mara) before the decoupling of the university and the trust fund, it may be even higher.

Just like in fictional Hogwarts, UiTM may be the Hufflepuff of Malaysian public universities and we may be slow learners, but we truly make it up in numbers and many of us, eventually, learn. In fact, I would dare say that this is UiTM's specialty – it educates students who keep learning to adapt and overcome their conditions.

It is perhaps why even the UiTM non-graduates still get hired into senior positions and look forward to finishing their studies later on.

And yet, for the numbers it churns out every convocation, it continues to have the same problem as all public universities – how many actually join the workforce and earn an income?

To cater to this, the university has continued to up its game in the training of students over the years – meaning what I learned during my time there from 2003 to 2005, is not the same as what is taught now, more than a decade later.

I've been told that even my degree has now changed into a more current and viable course.

While many continue to say that UiTM is full of privileged sons and daughters who get in based on connections, I beg to disagree. Having mingled with its students at the Faculty of Information Technology and Quantitative Sciences, it was certainly as diverse as it comes with sons and daughters from the lower-income and lower middle-income groups.

And while the fees may have been subsidised even more, it wasn't without the need to back it with results or be kicked out. It isn't a walk in the park that everyone else thinks it is, especially if you are in the niche faculties and fields such as architecture, hospitality, hotel and catering, and even mass communication.

But more than all this, UiTM allowed the creation of a Malay middle class throughout the nation that bred generations of Malay professionals and like myself, semi-professionals, based all across the country.

It is one reason why last October, Datuk Seri Najib Abdul Razak reminded the alumni to be thankful of what the government has done through UiTM.

And to those in UiTM taking to heart that they've been branded slow learners, I suggest they take it as a compliment. Tunku Abdul Rahman took six years to complete a law degree and didn't pass the bar on his first try.

The best thing about slow learners is that we eventually, sustainably learn and never give up. So, keep learning.

Hafidz Baharom is a public relations practitioner. Comments: letters@thesundaily.com