The passing of an educationist

Senior management, lecturers and students pay their last respects as the hearse bearing Dr Lee’s remains passes INTI International University in Nilai.

The higher education fraternity mourns the loss of an experienced university leader.

HE has been described as one of the early champions of private education in Malaysia.

Emeritus Prof Dr Lee Fah Onn, the co-founder and senior advisor of INTI International University & Colleges, passed away last Saturday.

His son Wei Lian found Dr Lee unconscious late last Friday night at their home in Petaling Jaya.

“We called the ambulance but the paramedics could not revive him,” said Wei Lian, who added the time of death was about 1am on Saturday.

The cause of death is believed to be a heart attack, he added, as his father had a stent procedure in March.

“Dad loved people and believed very much in education. It was his passion.

“He also loved his family and friends. My family and I will miss him very much,” he said.

Wei Lian said his father came from a humble background in Tampin, Negri Sembilan.

“He did whatever he could to support his parents and siblings, including selling pineapples by the roadside after school,” he said.

Wei Lian said his father went on to touch thousands of lives, first, as a lecturer at Institut Teknologi Mara (ITM), and later, as co-founder of INTI.

Dr Lee’s eldest daughter Siew Lian said her father helped many people during his life.

“I know he made each person feel that he understood them,” she said.

INTI Education Holdings Sdn Bhd founder and chairman Tan Yew Sing said Dr Lee was the driving force behind the private university.

“I was the entrepreneur and he was the educationist. It was a good combination,” he said.

He said they set up the institution to give young Malaysians an opportunity to further their studies.

“So, we felt starting a private college at the time and offering the American Credit Transfer Programme was a right move. In the education field, he was my closest partner and best friend,” he said.

As INTI’s student population grew, it shifted to a bigger premise in Jalan Sungai Besi, Kuala Lumpur in 1989, before moving to Subang Jaya, Selangor in 1991. Seven years later, it set up its main campus in Nilai, which obtained university status in 2010.

A major milestone was when INTI International University tied up with United States-based Laureate International Universities in 2008. With the collaboration, INTI joined a network of campus-based and online institutions in countries across North and Latin America, Europe, Africa, Asia and the Middle East. INTI grew from an enrolment of 37 students in 1986 to over 16,000 students currently.

INTI International University & Colleges CEO Timothy Bulow said: “Dr Lee was pivotal to INTI’s positive impact on our students and the growth of our institution throughout INTI’s history.”

“Dr Lee was a terrific leader, friend, and advisor to us. We benefited significantly from his wisdom and kindness,” he said.

Bulow said he was always touched by how Dr Lee invested so much passion and energy into INTI. His passing, he added, is a great loss not only to INTI, but also to the education industry in Malaysia.

Man of principle

Universiti Teknologi Mara (UiTM) vice-chancellor Emeritus Prof Datuk Dr Hassan Said revealed Dr Lee was well liked by his colleagues as he was a very experienced university leader and gained respect from academic peers throughout the world.

Prof Hassan, who previously served with the Education and Higher Education Ministries, described him as a man with principle in upholding the good governance and quality of private higher education.

“He assisted me to review the policies of the Private Higher Educational Institutions Act 1996 (Act 555). Dr Lee was one of the pioneer academic staff in ITM and was loved by his former students,” he said.

Dr Lee, he added, taught the pre-university zoology subjects at the Applied Science School from 1967 to 1969.

Malaysian Qualifications Agency (MQA) chief executive officer Prof Datuk Dr Rujhan Mustafa, who last met Dr Lee two weeks ago at a Task Force to Facilitate Business (Pemudah) meeting, said he was a dedicated leader who personally took charge of every single programme submission at INTI.

“According to our senior staff, he used to come to the National Accreditation Board (before it was upgraded to MQA) with a printer and binding machine to complete his submissions,” he said.

He provided many constructive suggestions when he led the Malaysian Association of Private Colleges and Universities (Mapcu).

“When we initiated Hari Mesra Pelanggan at MQA, a weekly event to engage with stakeholders in higher education, Dr Lee was a frequent visitor who discussed issues related to academic programmes at INTI and other higher education policies.

“He will be missed but his legacy in private higher education will remain,” said Prof Rujhan.

Higher Education Ministry director-general Datin Paduka Dr Siti Hamisah Tapsir said Dr Lee continued to contribute to private higher education development despite his retirement.

“His passing marks a great loss to the national education sector,” she added.

Mapcu president Datuk Dr Parmjit Singh said he knew Dr Lee from the time INTI was established.

“Over the years, we were constantly in touch on various challenges related to higher education, and just as recently as last Tuesday, Dr Lee represented me at a meeting with the Higher Education Ministry.

“He has been a great mentor and an inspiration to those who have known him,” he said.

Thousands of students developed their careers as a result of Dr Lee’s untiring efforts throughout his own career, he added.

Dedicated mentor

“Dr Lee was certainly a man for me to watch, look up to and learn from in those early days.

“While our institutions were competitors, the spirit was always to work together for the collective good and development of the private education industry.

“In that regard, he was always open to sharing and looking for ways for us to complement each other,” said Sunway Education Group senior executive director Elizabeth Lee.

“I remember the times we’d sit down together to work on draft policies and even the Education Acts.

“He was meticulous and passionate in ensuring we left no stone unturned,” she shared.

HELP University vice-chancellor and president Prof Datuk Dr Paul Chan said Dr Lee worked well with everyone.

“We shared ideas often over the decades. There are few quiet leaders like him. It is a loss to the fraternity,” he added.

Former INTI associate vice president, administrative affairs Danny Lee recalled the time he was one of Dr Lee’s biology students at the institution.

“He was a great lecturer who made the topic interesting for us. Subsequently, he was my ‘sifu’ when I worked with him for 12 years,” said Lee, who is now SEGi University and Colleges group chief marketing officer.

Former INTI Subang Campus chief executive Margaret Ong remembers Dr Lee as a humorous colleague who was always helpful. He was a mentor and father figure to many, she added.

StarEducate journalists always found Dr Lee to be friendly, approachable and ever ready to explain the different issues and concepts.

Dr Lee’s funeral was held on Wednesday. Senior management, lecturers and students paid their last respects when a hearse bearing Dr Lee’s remains passed INTI International University in Nilai.

He leaves behind his wife Chen Fun Chow, four children and two grandchildren.

May he rest in peace.

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