Soaring high after 40 years

UKM to celebrate its anniversary with a big bang.

IT WAS sheer determination on the part of the pioneer batch of students from Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia or the National University of Malaysia (known popularly as UKM) who wanted to prove that it was possible to complete a degree in the Malay Language.

Prof Datin Dr Zuriati Zakaria, who was the first female chemist from UKM, recalls being very determined to succeed.

“We had a thing to prove, and that was to study Science in the national language. It wasn’t easy as my friends and I had studied in English-medium schools,” she shares.

Many of the lecturers at the university then were from Indonesia, so there was some difficulty in understanding the language and Scientific terms.

The idea of establishing a national university was first mooted as far back as the early 1920s. The initial proposition, made by Abd Kadir Adabi, sought for the establishment of a university that could meet the educational needs of the Malays and the development of their language.

In the 60s, a group of Malay intellectuals gathered to discuss the notion of a national university, not only in the context of Malay needs, but also that of a Malaysian nation.

It was well received and in 1969, a Sponsoring Committee was set up to prepare and publish a report recommending the establishment of UKM. It was from this report and its recommendations that the university was established on May 18, 1970.

It is the third university in Malaysia, but the first to use the Malay Language as the medium of instruction.

When it was established some 40 years ago in Lembah Pantai, Kuala Lumpur, there were 192 students, with 78 academic staff.

At that time, UKM had three faculties namely, Faculty of Arts, Faculty of Science, and Faculty of Islamic Studies.

There are now 13 faculties and 14 centres of excellence including the Fuel Cell Institute and the Institute of Space Science.

Prof Zuriati who is with the School of Chemical Sciences and Food Technology, says she and her friends studied along the corridors and at the canteen.

Her roommate at the hostel, Prof Dr Maimoon Abdullah was just as determined to succeed.

“We formed study groups. It was usually three to a group to ensure each person could contribute something and to this day, I encourage my students to form study groups,” she shares.

Although she does not have photographs, Prof Maimoon recalls how trendy the students were, back then.

“Many of the female students sported a Saloma or Doris Day hairstyle and wore skirts with slits,” adds Prof Maimoon from the School of Environmental and Natural Resource Sciences.

Former deputy vice-chancellor Prof Datuk Dr Sukiman Sarmani, who studied for a bachelor of science degree in chemistry, was also in the pioneer batch.

“In May 1970, we did not have any laboratory space and facilities, so we did our practicals in several places such as Technical College Gurney Road for Physics, Sekolah Alam Shah in Cheras for Chemistry, and the Faculty of Agriculture, Universiti Malaya for Biology,” he shares.

Prof Sukiman who is now with the School of Chemical Sciences and Food Technology, recalls that some specialised experiments were conducted in the Rubber Research Institute, Jalan Ampang, and the National Atomic Agency in Jakarta and Bandung, Indonesia.

Alumni Relations Office deputy director Assoc Prof Dr Koh Aik Khoon recalls the close relationship between lecturers and students.

“I was trying to decide between majoring in Mathematics or Physics but my lecturer at the time, Pak Dermawan was such a good Physics teacher that I was inspired to major in that area,” he shares.

Vice-chancellor Prof Tan Sri Dr Sharifah Hapsah Syed Hasan Shahabudin says the university is building a “knowledge eco-system”.

“Imagine UKM as a bird which is flying high, as this means the university is focused on what its doing and where it is going,” she explains, adding that a seagull was chosen to represent UKM as it flies high and far.

The body of the bird is what the university represents — the main processes at the university such as research, education, service, an efficient delivery system as well as transformation machinery and empowerment, while its wings represent the projects under its eight niche areas. (See story on page 3)

“Our aim is to be among the leading universities by 2018,” she adds.

Prof Sharifah Hapsah says the main challenge as the university celebrates its 40th anniversary is to ensure its transformation plan works with the commitment of all.

UKM Medical Centre Director and Faculty of Medicine Dean Prof Datuk Dr Lokman Saim has been with the university for 32 years, including his time as a student.

“I am very familiar with the system and academic activities. There are opportunities to make changes to the teaching methodology and curriculum from a student’s point of view.

Prof Lokman says it is an honour to be the first UKM graduate to become dean of the medical faculty.

One of his most memorable experiences was being an active student leader and playing football. For the first time in 1981, the medical side won the interfaculty football tournament.

Prof Dr Sithi V Muniandy who attributes his interest in Physics to the hit television series MacGyver, now teaches the subject at Universiti Malaya.

He obtained both his undergraduate degree in physics and a Master of Science in theoretical physics at UKM.

“I am fortunate to have been tutored by Prof S.C. Lim and Prof Roslan Abd-Shukor, the two most influential teachers from the Department of Physics, as they redefined the meaning of persistence and resilience in the pursuit of excellence,” he shares.

Negri Sembilan Yang di-Pertuan Besar Tuanku Muhriz Tuanku Munawir will launch the university’s 40th anniversary celebrations on Tuesday.

Tuanku Muhriz who is UKM chancellor will present a Royal Lecture on “UKM, university for the world”.

An exhibition on the developments of UKM since its establishment will also be held on the same day at the foyer of the Chancellery Building at the main campus. Three other activities which will be held on the day are the launch of new books, commemorative stamps, a first day cover and a UKM news portal. A Royal Concert will be held at the university’s Dewan Canselor Tun Abdul Razak (Dectar) on May 22.

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