Kampar – Malaysia’s First University Town


By James Gough

Just ten years ago when anyone mentioned Kampar, the only images that came to mind were claypot chicken rice, Kampar chicken biscuits and the hills that run parallel on the east side to the main street of town. Flash forward ten years and a new image leaps into awareness. Kampar is UTAR or University Tunku  Abdul Rahman with its wide and spacious campus grounds, a wide expanse of lake with young student cyclists whizzing past every few minutes. But this is not the original Kampar of memory but Bandar Baru Kampar or Kampar New Town located north of the old town.

utar 11a-001

Collapse of Tin Brought New Life to Kampar

Bandar Baru Kampar or Kampar New Town was the result of the collapse of the tin industry in Malaysia in 1985. Located to the north of Kampar town, it was started by Tan Sri Hew See Tong, 82, a former tin miner and former MP of Kampar from 1995 till 2008.

Hew, who lived all his life in Kampar, felt it was his ‘duty and responsibility to do something’ for his hometown, Kampar. When his own mining operations ground to a halt in 1989, Hew used his ex-mining land to the north of Kampar to venture into housing and industrial development, giving birth to the creation of Kampar New Town from a sandy yet scenic landscape.

New Economic Activities

At an interview with Ipoh Echo held at the Grand Kampar Hotel, Hew elaborated that his initial initiative attracted electronic companies to his new location. Though the companies are no longer here “their technology had become outdated”, it was the start of a new economic activity which spurred property development and became a catalyst for the Kampar of today.

However, it was Hew’s initiative to successfully encourage Tunku Abdul Rahman College (TARC) to set up a branch at Kampar, that was the cornerstone that has made Kampar what it has become today, a University Town.

*clockwise) Tan Sri Hew See Tong, GrandKampar Hotel and Bandar Baru Kampar
(clockwise) Tan Sri Hew See Tong, Grand Kampar Hotel and Bandar Baru Kampar

Hew’s original offer to the management of TARC was the use of five shop lots with a RM1 rental per year and a donation of 20Ha of his ex-mining land as a permanent site for the college. Hew also garnered the support of then MCA President Tun Dr Ling Liong Sik. Hence on May 2003, TAR College was officially opened in Kampar.

The subsequent setting up of the main campus of University Tunku Abdul Rahman (UTAR) located in Kampar was also facilitated by Hew. Engaging the assistance of former Menteri’s Besar Tan Sri Ramli Ngah Talib and Datuk Seri Tajol Rosli as well as MCA leader Datuk Seri Ong Ka Chuan, the Perak State Government subsequently granted UTAR a 520-ha piece of ex-mining land to build its campus.

Excellent Study Environment

UTAR was officially opened in June 2007 and is located in a scenic location flanked by placid lakes and picturesque mountains.

UTAR's study environment is quiet, comfortable and conducive
UTAR’s study environment is quiet, comfortable and conducive

Its campus houses five faculties which include the Faculty of Arts and Social Science, Business and Finance, Engineering and Green Technology, Information and Communication Technology and Faculty of Science. It also has facilities such as a gymnasium, basketball court, volleyball court for sports and extracurricular activities.

A walk through the campus starting from its Block A, Heritage Building, via the walkway which  follows the edge of the lake links the subsequent blocks and provides a panoramic vista for the visitor to view how former mining ponds are integrated together with the landscape and buildings creating a very conducive environment for studying and youth activities.

Similarly the students’ accommodation located across the lake are within cycling distance and bicycle traffic tends to increase before and after classes and during meal times at New Town.

UTAR has facilities for sport and extra curricular activities
UTAR has facilities for sport and extra curricular activities

Journalism student Lena Toon who is currently interning with Ipoh Echo till August, described the overall study environment as quiet, comfortable and conducive. Toon who lives in  Ipoh commutes by bus on weekends and like the majority of students, cycles to class.

Extra-curricular activities are plentiful with Wushu being particularly well attended. Its Club President, Lecturer Lee How Chinh admitted that his students’ passion for the sport made it the most active club for two straight years and contributed three of five participants at the Asian University games in Laos last year.

Time for dinner at Bandar Baru Kampar
Time for dinner at Bandar Baru Kampar

An early evening visit to Kampar New Town revealed the hordes of students literally flock to the town centre mostly on bicycles for their evening meal while at the field across, other youths were still playing Frisbee. Notably too at New Town were the outlets of Old Town White Coffee, McDonald’s, Domino’s Pizza as well as K-Box Karaoke and even a gym and skating rink all within the centre.

Spin off  Services

Besides property development which was created to provide accommodation and commercial services, other services here include retail shops, a supermarket, restaurants, hotels and bicycle shops.

According to Hew, TARC has 2000 students while UTAR currently has over 14,000 students and is increasing on average 10 per cent each year. UTAR has a capacity for over 20,000 students and Hew anticipates UTAR’s population to increase to 18,000 by the year 2018.

An issue about insufficient accommodation was heard during UTAR Kampar’s recent second convocation day held at its 4000 capacity Tun Ling Liong Sik grand hall. The event was held over three days in order to accommodate the students to share their proud achievement with their parents.

Kampar’s main hotel is the 155-room Grand Kampar Hotel centrally located in New Town though there are several budget hotels located in the town.

Room for Improvement

Hew, when asked if he had done his duty and responsibility, acknow-ledged that “yes, Kampar has been revived”.

He elaborated that assuming the 14,000 students that were living in Kampar spent an estimate of RM14 million per month, based on RM1000 per month expenditure, the town would be flush with RM168 million per year just from tertiary education.

Adding that there was still a lot of room for improvement Hew highlighted the recent opening of the Westlake International School within the same locality as UTAR which provides students the opportunity for a globalized environment.

Westlake International School offers students opportunities for a globalized environment
Westlake International School offers students opportunities for a globalized environment

The international school which started this year offers the Cambridge International General Certificate of Secondary Education (IGCSE) curriculum that is recognised worldwide. The current enrolment is over 100 students but has a capacity to accommodate 3000 students ultimately.

Hew shared his other planning projects over the next five years which includes service apartments for short-term stays (1-2 months) for visitors, a condominium for overseas students and their families and a 5-acre Kampar Walk close to Westlake.

Kampar’s Heritage Tourism

Another area for economic activity says Hew, is tourism. Hew who has been involved with the tin industry all his life, has created a tin museum depicting the various aspects of early mining activity.

Hew’s vision for tourism could be put to the test. Moving through Kampar’s main road are several Chinese clan houses, a post office and a hospital. The 100-year-old Chinese temple is still there as is the Catholic Sacred Heart Church at the end of the road just past the Merdeka clock tower built to commemorate Malaysia’s independence day.

Kampar Heritage Tourism.(clockwise) Tin Museum, Kampar main street with Merdeka Clock Tower in the foreground. Clan houses beside the Chinese Temple.
Kampar Heritage Tourism.(clockwise) Tin Museum, Kampar main street with Merdeka Clock Tower in the foreground. Clan houses beside the Chinese Temple.

What was equally amazing was one of the houses on the main road belonged to Imam Prang Jabarumun, the Assistant Penghulu of Gopeng, a Mandailing’ who in the 1890s played midwife to the birth of Kampar originally called Mambang di Awan (fairy in the clouds).

In the book ‘Kinta Valley’ by Khoo Salma Nasution and Abdur Razzaq Lubis “Imam Prang Jabarumun, upon discovering a very rich tin field had been discovered at Mambang di-awan, demanded that Kinta District Officer JBM Leech follow him immediately to lay out the township”.

Leech acknowledging the site to be valuable selected a township site and named it Kampar after a little stream close by. For Leech, Mambang di-Awan was too long a name for a Chinese mining village.

Leech later in 1891 described the progress of Kampar ‘from the most backward to one of the most prosperous’. He added that “it has grown from a cluster of huts into a large and flourishing mining village with 154 shops which had been laid out with the usual blocks of ten 20 ft building lots”.

These shoplots still exist on the main street and would make a good heritage tourism product for Kampar.

Apparently Hew is right again. There is still a lot of room for improvement.


1 thought on “Kampar – Malaysia’s First University Town

  1. The old town of Kampar is a classic small town. The heading “Kampar’s Heritage Tourism” deserves more space.

    As a tin-mining town at the southern tip of the Kinta Valley, “Kampar” was the second largest town in Kinta, and now it lends its name to a new district, taking over an acreage of land just less than half of the former Kinta District.

    With the Bujang Melaka as its backdrop, the town is blessed with quite rich cultural and natural assets. Its picturesque townscapes reflect its wealth and logical town planning. The town is charming, if overly Chinese in composition. The numerous cross streets are sensibly named after their landmarks.

    It would be great if you would do a story to introduce the heritage and the rich social history of Kampar.

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