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The strange history of TAR UC, and why MCA wanted to start a college

In what might seem like an odd piece of news, the secretary-general of the Malaysian Chinese Association (MCA), Chong Sin Woon was recently seen in a bak kut teh shop… asking for donations?

Now before y’all start going “haha MCA no money”, here’s a (rough) translation of his caption for all you bananas out there:

“The MCA has officially started fundraising for TAR UC, and the first stop is at Samy & Min Bak Kut Teh. We’ve managed to collect RM5935 in just two hours, and we encourage all MCA members (regardless of districts, city or branch) to join the TAR UC fundraiser.

We also hope that all relevant groups, vendors, businessmen and people from the education sector can join this fundraiser,” – Chong Sin Woon, as translated from his Facebook post

So in case you couldn’t tell, Chong was going around asking for donations in a bak kut teh shop to help raise funds for the Tunku Abdul Rahman University College (TAR UC). But why is a major tertiary education institution resorting to a donation campaign that’s reminiscent of the donation drives done by dilapidated primary schools?

Well to answer that, we need to first understand TAR UC’s history.


MCA founded the college due to a lack of opportunities for the Chinese

Tunku Abdul Rahman College circa-1976. Image from The Star

Tunku Abdul Rahman College circa-1976. Image from The Star

Tunku Abdul Rahman College – as it was known before it was upgraded to a university college in 2013 – has its roots in the 1960s, when the MCA found that the Chinese community often had little in terms of opportunities for further education. In light of trying to help their grassroots, they tried but ultimately failed to start a Chinese-language university called Merdeka University in 1967. Following that, as a compromise, the govt allowed them to pursue the formation of the Tunku Abdul Rahman College the year after.

TARC would finally open its doors on the 24th of February 1969, with an intake of 320 students. Without a formal building, some of their classes were held in primary schools, while others were even outdoors.

Some of the earliest classes held at TARC. Image from TARUC

Some of the earliest classes held at TARC. Image from TARUC

However just a few months later, the May 13 riots happened, and as a result, the govt of the time introduced the New Economic Policy. Part of this plan included an ethnic quota system at public tertiary education institutions, and in the 1970s it was determined that the quota would roughly be 55% Bumiputera, 35% Chinese and 10% for Indians and others.

TARC was now seemingly even more important for non-bumiputera students, and as part of the political wheeling and dealing, in 1972, the then-Education Minister Tun Hussien Onn announced that the govt would be providing financial assistance to TARC on a 50:50 basis; the BN govt later provided yearly funding of up to RM60 million a year since they became a university college.

Anyway, later in the 70s, the govt also approved a site in Setapak for the construction of TARC’s main campus. Even Tunku Abdul Rahman, the man behind the name of the college, was there at the groundbreaking ceremony of the college.

Tunku Abdul Rahman going green before y'all millennials got in on the act. Image from The Star

Tunku Abdul Rahman going green before y’all millennials got in on the act. Image from The Star

However, to build an institute of education would require more than that, and the MCA would go on a three-year-long donation drive. Plenty of people from various backgrounds such as hawkers, Chinese guild associations and MCA members themselves came together to help donate what little they have towards the building of the college. There was even a walkathon to help garner donations for a student loan fund. As one such hawker puts it:

“I remember people such as hawkers, trishaw riders and hairdressers doing their very best to collect money and donate it to the college,” – Loke Thean Meng, 59-year-old hawker, as quoted by The Star

In the 80s and 90s, further expansions to TARC was deemed necessary as more and more students applied; there were 6272 students in 1980, compared to the few hundred in its first year of operations. Then-MCA president Tun Dr Ling Liong Sik thus carried out numerous donation drives and fundraising activities, conducting walkathons, taxithons(?) and even motorthons(??). We guess you could say there were a thon of them. #ihatecilisos

The 1992 TARC Walkathon. Image from TARUC

The 1992 TARC Walkathon. Image from TARUC

Tun Dr Ling and his wife cooking a pot of fish ball soup worth RM180k (of donations). Image from The Star

Tun Dr Ling and his wife cooking a pot of fish ball soup worth RM180k (of donations). Image from The Star

Later on, more and more developments would occur at TARC, such as the building of a sports complex, a cyber centre, and even new branches throughout Malaysia. But with Dr Ling at the helm, he wasn’t done trying to expand TARC itself.


Dr Ling wanted a university, and asked Mahathir for it mid-air

In the decades since TAR UC’s formation, Dr Ling would seek to further improve the tertiary prospects for students with a plan for a fully-fledged university – the Universiti Tunku Abdul Rahman (UTAR).

The story goes that Ling and then-PM Dr Mahathir were both in a plane, and just had a lunch consisting of Tun M’s favourite nasi lemak. With a happy Prime Minister in front of him, Ling thought that it would be a great time to ask him about plans for UTAR.

Ling shaking hands with Dr M, with some femes faces nearby. Image from Din Merican

Ling shaking hands with Dr M, with some other femes faces nearby. Image from Din Merican

Mahathir apparently didn’t respond to him – but he did take out his notebook to write down the idea. Dr Ling knew the PM had a habit of writing down ideas he thought were good, and in the end barely a week after the mid-air conversation, the then-Deputy Education Minister Datuk Hon Choon Kim popped by his house with the good news – a letter requesting the MCA to form UTAR.

“You don’t apply to form a university, you know? If they think you are qualified, they invite you to form the university… So, the idea of UTAR was born on the air, not in the sea or in the bed. It was on the plane,” – Tun Dr Ling Liong Sik, as quoted by The Star

In what was like deja vu for MCA, it was again time to raise funds for a new tertiary education institute. Ling and his pol-sec Tan Sri Ong Ka Ting would later fly to Hong Kong a week later, and there they knocked on the office of one Robert Kuok.

You probably know him as that one guy most Malaysian boomers refer to as Sugar King. Image from Rojak Daily

You probably know him as that one guy most Malaysian boomers refer to as Sugar King. Image from Rojak Daily

After telling Kuok the good news that they now have a university to build, Kuok replied very simply by telling Ling he’s gonna need a lot of money, and he’ll help with an initial RM20 million. But of course, that wouldn’t suffice, and other tycoons soon came to help, with names such as Tan Sri Ananda Krishnan, Tan Sri Syed Mokthtar Albukhary and Tan Sri Lim Goh Tong among those who pledged millions towards UTAR.

With the Hawker Associations also helping out, there would be nearly RM200 million in just one year for UTAR’s construction, and UTAR would be completed and established by 2002. It now boasts two main campuses: one in Kampar, and another in Sungai Long.

UTAR Kampar. Image fro UTAR

UTAR Kampar. Image fro UTAR


Since PH took over however, the Finance Ministry has stopped providing TAR UC matching funds

So remember how earlier in the article we mentioned how the govt gives TAR UC a matching grant up to RM60 million? Well since Budget 2019 (Harapan’s first budget)… that’s kinda no longer the case.

Finance Minister Lim Guan Eng has so far not given the MCA education institutions their supposed matching grants (TAR UC apparently would’ve gotten RM30 mil in Budget 2020 if Guan Eng gave the matching grant), with a RM5.5 mil allocation in Budget 2019 and going even lower in Budget 2020, with just RM1 mil for TAR UC. That’s a whole lot less than the RM30 mil set aside for them back in Budget 2018. Lim claims that this is because of MCA’s links to the university, and says that if MCA were to let go of the two institutions, RM30 million in funding will go back to TAR UC.

“I have said before that if MCA is willing to relinquish control over TAR UC, the government will immediately reinstate fundings, which is RM30 million this year and RM30 million next year. The problem is they don’t want to relinquish control,” – Lim Guan Eng, Finance Minister, as quoted by Malaysiakini

He adds that this is because the govt wants to separate public funds from politics and that political parties shouldn’t have control over tertiary education institutes.

Basically, this is what's happening.

Basically, this is what’s happening.

Anyways, since Budget 2019 and Budget 2020 allocated so little for TAR UC compared to the matching grants of old, MCA isn’t pleased to say the least. Calling it ‘political revenge’, MCA’s president Wee Ka Siong made it known that Harapan was apparently going against their own promises about funding TAR UC.

“What is happening now that he has become the finance minister? He said it out loud that Pakatan will still give allocation to TAR UC and UTAR without looking at the background because they emphasised the development of human capital.

But suddenly things have changed because of political revenge and his dislike for the MCA,” – Wee Ka Siong, as quoted by The Star

MCA have also argued that no funds allocated to the education institutes have been channeled into the party in response to Guan Eng asking the TAR UC board to resign, and threatens legal action against anyone who claims so. Funnily enough tho we found that during the Budget 2018 announcement, the funding for TAR UC was not revealed, and DAP ended up querying the then-BN govt over the alleged lack of funding for the uni college until the govt clarified that there was indeed RM30 mil set aside.

In any case, the political turmoil is unfortunately putting the futures of the students at TAR UC at risk. With the no end to the tussle in sight, some rakyat have already taken the initiative to begin another donation drive for TAR UC.

Loke Thean Meng, popularly known as Uncle Loke, is a curry mee hawker in Penang. And for each bowl of noodles he sells, he’ll donate 10 cents to TAR UC.

Uncle Loke, hawker and now educationist. Image from The Star

Uncle Loke, hawker and now educationist. Image from The Star

“For half a century, TARC has been a place that cultivated countless Malaysian talents, from professionals to ministers. The state of TARC today is heartbreaking, but it also reminds me of how willingly the Chinese community would donate to TARC 50 years ago…

I may not be able to contribute a large donation, but I will do what I can. I announce from November 1st onward, there will be a long term fundraising of 10 sens for every bowl of curry noodle sold. Uncle Loke hopes that this small move will wake up all levels of society and join the fundraiser,” – Loke Thean Meng, as translated from his Facebook

[UPDATE 17/11/19]: It appears as tho Uncle Loke’s generosity may be the start of a larger movement. A bunch of traders and hawkers in Perak have apparently got together to offer their help towards the institution, and the MCA may even go old school with a charity dinner on the cards for TAR UC.

“This is not the first time we have done charity sales. Previously, we also helped other schools to raise funds. We believe that education is important and helping TAR UC will benefit future generations, ” – Yan Ehee Kuan, food vendor, as quoted by The Star

In the end, perhaps we should all be like Uncle Loke and co to try our best to ensure all Malaysians get access to education rather than to let politics get in the way.

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