Self Interest Before Others

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UTAR is unlike other public universities. It has no hostel facilities. Is this a genuine oversight or is it deliberate?

Tunku Abdul Rahman College or TAR College was the forerunner of Universiti Tunku Abdul Rahman (UTAR). Built on a 191-acre site adjacent to Wardieburn Camp, Setapak in September 1972, the college provided Chinese youths opportunities to further their studies upon completion of their secondary education. It was the equivalent of the MARA College in Old Town Petaling Jaya, which catered to Malay students.

Beginning
In July 2001 the Education Ministry invited the Malaysian Chinese Association (MCA), the owner of TAR College, to establish a university of its own. A steering committee under MCA President, Dr. Ling Liong Sik, drew up the blueprint while a working committee, headed by the then principal of TAR College prepared the working papers.

To ensure that the institution conformed to international standards an advisory council consisting of eminent scholars was established. The council met on April 15, 2002 to chart its course.

On June 10, 2002, the university received its first intake of 411 students at its Petaling Jaya campus. In August 2002, Prime Minister Mahathir Mohammad, declared it opened. Today UTAR has over 16,000 students pursuing 91 programmes in nine faculties spread over four campuses – Petaling Jaya, Sg. Long (Cheras), Setapak and Kampar. Of interest is the Kampar campus in Perak.

Benign Facade
The Kampar campus sits on a 1,300-acre site given by the Perak state government in 2003. Surrounded by lakes and rolling hills, the campus is noted for its aesthetic beauty accentuated by a lush green and vibrant background. It provides an ideal setting for those wanting peace and tranquillity away from the madding crowd. In short a perfect environment for studying.

The campus’ pioneer batch of students reported in May 2007. Although it can accommodate over 16,000 students only about 10,000 are currently enrolled in the 32 programmes on offer.

Behind this benign façade, however, a more ominous tale unwinds; one which is set to hound the university’s elders and MCA in the years ahead. In spite of its grandeur, UTAR is unlike other public universities. It has no hostel facilities. Is this a genuine oversight or is it deliberate? It could be both depending how one wishes to view it.

Custom-Made
Economic considerations topped the agenda when the campus was built. A bustling university with a huge student population means money for those with properties to sell and rent. Lands in close proximity to the university were snapped up and houses built on them. These houses are custom-made for students who, having no other means of accommodation, are forced to rent them.

In one purpose-built housing estate, within striking distance of the institution, the terrace houses come either in two or three storey configuration. The interiors are being partitioned into rooms (cubicles) ranging in size from 86 to 150 sq ft. One terrace house may have as many as 5 or 14 rooms, based on its structure.

The going rate for single occupancy averages about RM300 while twin/triple-sharing about RM200 per student per room per month, depending on the size of the room and amenities available. And since almost all the rooms in these purpose-built houses are taken up, one can imagine the amount of money the owner makes in a month. The reason for this lop-sided deal is obvious – unfettered greed. A paradoxical Shylock exacting his pound of flesh, it seems.

Rip-Off
One sympathetic Ipohite, concerned for the welfare of the much-maligned students, offered to build a hostel with his own money. Mindful of the havoc the hostel would cause, MCA turned it down citing some incomprehensible reasons.

“It’s a rip-off,” lamented one dejected parent whose only daughter was accepted into the university recently. “Parents and students have voiced their dissatisfaction but they have fallen on deaf ears.”

There will not be a solution in the foreseeable future so long as the self-serving interest of the greedy remains unshackled. It is cronyism at its best. Like all things else, the poor and the marginalised are left to pick up the pieces.

Fathol Zaman Bukhari