KAMPAR – From Tin Mines to Tertiary Education

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By Jerry Francis


Kampar, like most mining towns in the rich alluvial tin deposit region of the Kinta Valley, plunged into a depression when the international tin price collapsed in October, 1985. Several tin mines on which the town’s economy largely depended, gradually ceased operation. Also affected were scores of supporting industries, such as foundries, hardware shops, machinery workshops and timber traders. As a result, thousands of workers lost their jobs. Without any alternative employment opportunity available, most of the young people left as immigrant workers to Japan, Taiwan, Europe and the United States and sent their hard earned money home to their dependants. Kampar founded in 1887, thus became like an old-folks and children’s home. However, in just over two decades, Kampar has emerged from the tailings of the tin mines into a fast growing hub for tertiary education in Perak.

The revival of Kampar was possible largely because of the vision of a former veteran tin miner Tan Sri Hew See Tong, who gave a kiss of life to an otherwise dying mining town.

Tan Sri Hew See Tong

“Hew, a miner since 1949, was an advisor for a number of years to the International Tin Council (ITC) in London, which was established in 1956 to manage a buffer stock to keep the tin price at a steady level until 1985 when its buffer manager could no longer maintain the price due to rising cost of production and an increase in production by non-member countries. As a result ITC collapsed and so did the tin mining industry in the country.

After the tin mining industry collapsed, I managed to carry on until the drop of the tin price became unbearable”, said the 79-year-old Hew at a casual interview in a coffee-shop.

New Township
On ceasing mining operations in 1989, he decided to diversify and use his ex-mining land just north of Kampar town for housing and industrial developments. And so, a new township – Bandar Baru Kampar, sprang out in the midst of the vast sandy landscape.

Beautifully designed shophouses in Bandar Baru Kampar

This gave some clout to his efforts. Hew’s hope was to develop the new township to be a catalyst in bringing much deve-lopment and growth to the region.

He started off by luring three foreign electronic companies to set up their operations in the new township and provide employment for about 7,000 workers.

Need for Progress
Despite some critics accusing him of having a personal agenda, the soft-spoken Hew crusaded on with his vision to bring progress and new hope to the residents of his birthplace. “I felt we needed to do something and so decided to make Kampar a hub of tertiary education”, he said.

Hew then went on to persuade Tunku Abdul Rahman College (TARC) to set up a branch. His offer of five shop lots at a nominal rental of RM1 per year and a donation of 20.2ha of his ex-mining land for the college’s permanent site was too good to refuse.

And with the support of Tun Dr. Ling Liong Sek (former MCA president), he managed to get TARC to come in and the branch campus was constructed and officially opened on May 18, 2003. Today, the branch campus, surrounded by beautiful scenery and lakes, offers outstanding facilities and resources that further promote excellent teaching and learning.

UTAR
Hew was also instrumental in getting the University Tunku Abdul Rahman (UTAR) to set up its main campus in the new township. It was with the help of two former Menteri Besars of Perak, Tan Sri Ramli Ngah and Datuk Seri Tajol Rosli, and an MCA leader Datuk Seri Ong Ka Chuan that a 520-ha piece of ex-mining land surrounded by lush greenery and lakes was allocated by the Perak Government to UTAR.

The university was officially opened on June 1, 2007. UTAR has progressed steadily to be a comprehensive university providing “a diverse portfolio of undergraduate and postgraduate programmes with a niche in research and consultancy”.

Main square of Bandar Baru Kampar

Future Developments
Under its second phase of development, UTAR is constructing a grand-hall with a capacity for 3,500 people and a number of lecture theatres. Currently, UTAR has an enrolment of 12,500 students and TARC has 2,100 students.Bandar Baru Kampar has about 4,000 houses, 300 commercial buildings, two government schools, a large supermarket and a seven-storey hotel. Housing developments are still underway.

The Federal Govern-ment is proposing to build a satellite hospital in the township to cater to the residents of Lower Perak and MARA is planning to set up its university at nearby Gua Tempurung.

With plans for expansion by the two education institutions, the student population is expected to hit well above 20,000. Kampar is therefore primed to move further with the education sector as the main driving force of its economy.

Providing accommodation and essential needs of the students alone offers great prospects to the economic and commercial activities of the township as well as the old town. Already, restaurants, hotels, internet cafes and retail shops are among others thriving in the town.

Confidence in the economic boom of Kampar is shown by the number of commercial banks (8) which have their branches in the town. With its population on the increase to well above 70,000, the sub-district was upgraded to a full district – the 10th in Perak last year.

Tourism Potential
Having seen Kampar turn around to become a hub of tertiary education is not sufficient for Hew to rest on his laurels. “My dream is to see Kampar become both a hub for tertiary education and a tourist destination.

“There is potential for tourism development in Kampar and its surroundings”, he claimed. He pointed out the bird sanctuary in the area, Gua Tempurung and the old tin dredge in Chendrong as among the tourist attractions.

As for his role towards tourism, Hew said he, together with some former miners, were working on setting up a gravel pump mines museum to be located in the township.

“We want to show the young generation and the generations to come, the contribution of the tin mining industry to the economy of the country as well as remind the residents of the town’s heritage”, he said.

The old town was once famous for its chicken clay-pot rice, chicken biscuits and fish-ball noodles. Bus-loads of tourists were known to make a bee-line to the town to savourthe delicacies. However theconstruction of the North-South Highway soon made the detour to Kampar too tedious and foodie visits dwindled. With the new focus on tourism, Kampar should soon see the full buses returning, making Kampar a full destination rather than a detour.

6 thoughts on “KAMPAR – From Tin Mines to Tertiary Education

  1. The root cause is greed, as Koon has rightly concluded in his letter. It’s a gold mine and losing this gold mine is like losing a lifeline. These greedy property owners will never budge an inch not when the tidings are simply too good to dismiss.

    It will take a herculean effort to overcome this problem, especially when those entrusted with the welfare of the students are the schemers themselves.

    The MCA President is privy to this lingering issue. Will his intervention prove fruitful? That’s a million ringgit question knowing how much baggage Soi Lek carries.

  2. Tan Sri Hew See Tong could be chalked down in history as the creator of Kampar Baru.

    This university town (for UTAR) will grow while bandar lama will reap the rewards for its heritage. Never mind those ‘far-away’ points of interest accessible from Ipoh. Kampar should focus on what it already has.

    Build on its history for tourism. There are enough sites of different interests to keep visitors happy.

    Soon, 20,000 students and their families can enjoy a weekend reunion in Kampar where good food abounds. Kampar needs more accommodation; old shophouses can be linked and re-used as small hotels. What it needs are young entrepreneurs who take on this kind of small-scale business to generate interesting business venues. Tour guiding can be good business, too. Perhaps, the Perak Tourist Guide Association can help train young locals who’d rather stay than zoom off to cosmopolitan KL or overseas?

    The economic pie is big and competition will only serve to keep services at a high level for sustainability.

    Here’s hoping that Mr Koon’s offer of student hostels will not be trumped by political nonsense. Private initiatives must be appreciated. Think of the future generations.

  3. I think the terms n condition proposed by Mr. Koon are reasonable and acceptable as they are to make sure all amount of the donation is used wisely.

    Ipoh is proud to have such a generous man~~
    (btw, i have heard of Mr. Koon’s stories who likes to sponsor poor students from my dad)

  4. Mr Koon’s generosity is commendable.
    It will be interesting to hear the reasons why the Board of Trustees would not accept Mr Koon’s offer.

    However the solution to the hostel problem which Mr Koon is so concerned about can be resolved by him buying his own piece of land and building and running his own hostel. He can do this under a Trust if he so wishes.
    The money from the hostel can be used for maintenance and staffing. Any profit can be used to expand the hostel.
    This way Mr Koon can run the hostel in the way he thinks most beneficial to the students.

    To wait for The Board of Trustees of UTAR is pointless since they seem not to want to engage with him for whatever reason.

    Thirty million is a lot of money by any standard and I am sure will be sufficient to buy a sizeable piece of land, including building a decent size hostel.

    Carpe Diem, Mr Koon.

  5. Mr. YY Koon,

    Permit me to thank you for your tremendous heart of gold that you have given to many of your deserving scholars.

    May they find in their own heart the the selflessness and willingness to repay your kindness to future generations.

    I wish you all the best in your undertakings. God bless.

  6. Greed can blind one’s vision….

    Every past issue of the Ipoh Echo during the past several months has carried an advertisement of my offer of scholarships to help poor students whose family income is less than Rm 2,000 per month. In the last three and half years, I have given scholarships to about 70 really poor students and most of them are studying in UTAR Kampar.

    Scholarships recipients do not need to pay me back for all the money I gave them, they do not need to work for me but they have to promise me that when they graduate and are financially solvent they will help other poor students. I believe some recipients will not forget that they have benefited from my charity and will carry on doing charity after I die.

    Before the end of the year, my first scholarship holder will be graduating as an accountant. This student had 10A1 for his SPM but failed to receive a scholarship from anywhere. Moreover, his father died soon after his completed his SPM. He is one of many thousands of bright but poor students who do not have the resources to continue their higher education.

    My assistance on its own can only make a small dent in this large scale phenomenon of deserving Malaysian students who cannot further their studies and realize their potential unless the government, private sector and the well-to-do step in to provide assistance.

    Direct financial assistance by sponsors is one way to reach out to the poor and deserving students. There are other ways, including more structured approaches that are available, especially to higher educational institutions that can play such an important role in ensuring equity of access to poor bright students.

    Let me explain one of these structured approaches. There are currently 12,500 students in UTAR and 2,100 students in TAR College. The student population is increasing by 2,000 a year and is expected to hit well above the 20,000 mark soon. As reported the Perak Government has allocated 520 ha of land and UTAR has utilized less than 100 ha. for the current development.

    After receiving confirmation that UTAR has no plans to build hostels, exactly one year ago, on 20th Aug last year, I offered a Rm 30 million donation to UTAR to build hostels with all the net profit to go towards building more hostels. I have openly declared that my intention is to help the students and I do not want any part of the profit for myself.

    For the last one year, it appears as if the Board of Trustees of UTAR has been using various methods to delay or reject my donation offer. Various stakeholders whose names I shall not divulge who own land outside the university campus and are reaping windfall gains from the booming student rental market do not want me to disturb their fantastically profitable real estate business. Needless to say, whist they are making hay while the sun shines, the tens of thousands of UTAR students and parents supporting them are the big losers.

    Frequently my scholarship holders complain that the amount of money I give them is not sufficient because the room rentals continue to go up. Moreover, they have the constant fear that they might not get a place to stay on their return from the university break period. According to the last check I did, the monthly rental of a twin sharing room was Rm 420 some months ago. It may have gone up more since then.

    I have been begging the Trustees of UTAR to accept my donation. To remind them of their fiduciary duty and their vision, I wrote this to UTAR Board of Trustees on 7th Sept 09 which should be of interest to all your readers.

    Advantages of hostel and recreational facilities within the campus:-

    1. To help students especially new ones and those from out of the state to solve their immediate housing problem.

    2. The hostel environment is more conducive to learning as well as helping nurture the fuller development of human relationships.

    3. There will be more than 10,000 UTAR students next year and all of them will be searching for accommodation. As they will be scattered all over Kampar, the University has practically no control or little control over them after lectures. They are free to drink, gamble and misbehave or engage in unhealthy activities which will influence their future life style. If hostel accommodation is provided, the house masters or wardens will be able to exert an influence over the students and have them engage in more wholesome and educational activities.

    4. The rapid increase of the student population has created a big and urgent demand for accommodation and housing developers are taking undue advantage of the situation. Students have the constant fear that their landlords would kick them out or that their tenancies will not be renewed, and many will have to spend much time trying to find new accommodation before the start of the new semester. This situation can be quickly remedied if the UTAR Council accepts my Proposal.

    5. University students are always burdened with a lot of difficulties. Many studies have shown that hostel living provides a stress free and healthier living environment, leading to better academic performance and more developed social skills.

    6. Most parents will welcome the hostel facilities since they can enjoy peace of mind that their children are staying in the campus in secure and peaceful environments.

    7. The problem of commuting between outside place of residence and the campus for students will be resolved. This will help reduce students’ living costs and also save on the time taken to travel to lectures and seminars.

    8. Living in a university hostel is often the most pleasurable period of a student’s life. The hostel facilities will generate fellowship and comradeship among fellow students which will bring benefits long after they graduate. This sense of camaraderie will be a key factor in helping ensure strong alumni support for UTAR.

    9. The availability of high quality and yet affordable hostel facilities will build up the image of UTAR as well as serve as a major attraction in attracting good students from all over the country and region.

    I trust some readers will persuade the top leaders of MCA to instruct the Board of Trusteees, UTAR to accept my donation to help students.
    I would like to complete the introduction I began with this conclusion.

    Greed can blind one’s vision but at what price to one’s soul and peace of mind?

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