Many MCA leaders are among the 100,000 graduates of Tuanku Abdul Rahman College, beneficiaries of the party's cause to make education more readily available and affordable to the community. FOONG PEK YEE spoke to three ex-Tarcians to see how the college had shaped their destiny and the fund-raising campaign they are involved in to help Universiti Tunku Abdul Rahman and fulfil the Chinese community's 32-year dream.
THEY come from the same family background - their parents were poor but they understood the need to provide their children with proper education to ensure they had a chance to succeed in life.
MCA vice-president Datuk Seri Ong Ka Ting grew up in a remote village in northern Perak, with 11 brothers and sisters. His mother was a rubber tapper, who struggled to feed the family, after his father passed away when he was very young.
Datuk Chan Kong Choy, another MCA vice-president, spent his childhood in Bentong, Pahang. His parents were hawkers who had to keep their budget tight, to raise a family of 10.
Another MCA leader, Datuk Lee Hwa Beng, the Selangor MCA treasurer and Subang Jaya assemblyman, grew up in Malacca where his parents were rubber tappers. He was the second among nine siblings.
The three, like many others, had one thing in common – they all studied at Tunku Abdul Rahman College, which provided them a chance to succeed in life. All three paid tribute to the MCA for the party’s role in education, especially in helping the poor who came from the over 400 new villages in Malaysia.
Tomorrow, they will be at the historic ground-breaking ceremony of Universiti Tunku Abdul Rahman by Prime Minister Datuk Seri Dr Mahathir Mohamad in Kampar, Perak.
Ong, a former teacher and Universiti Malaya graduate, said an offer for a place in TAR College opened up a whole new world for a 19-year-old village boy in 1975.
“I was always the top three in the class and felt contented but the feeling was different once I moved to the city.
“There were so many bright students outside the village and the exposure made me work doubly hard to match the rest,” the Housing and Local Government Minister said.
Ong, 47, obtained a Bachelor of Science degree from Universiti Malaya in 1979 and was a school teacher before becoming press secretary to Transport Minister Datuk Seri Dr Ling Liong Sik in the 1980s.
“As an ex-Tarcian and MCA leader, I will always support programmes to expand TARC and now also Universiti Tunku Abdul Rahman,” he said.
In the case of Chan, he was a second grader in the Malaysian Certificate of Education (MCE) examination for fifth formers as he failed to get a credit in Bahasa Malaysia. In the early 1970s, this meant the end of the road for many students but Chan refused to give up.
A talk for students, organised by the Bentong MCA, motivated Chan who had no access to information on tertiary education. His decision to study at TAR College changed his life.
“I don’t think I am what I am today if not for MCA and TAR College,” said the Deputy Finance Minister, who did a two-year pre-university course in the college between 1974 and 1975 before obtaining a Bachelor of Arts from Universiti Malaya in 1979 and a diploma in teaching the following year.
“MCA always has a special place in my heart and TAR College was the turning point in my life. Now, it’s my turn to make Utar a reality,” he said in an interview.
Articulated and enthusiastic, Chan helped to set up the first modern language department in the then Universiti Pertanian Malaysia (now Universiti Putra Malaysia) when he was teaching Chinese there between 1980 and 1986.
Chan said he would raise funds in his capacity as deputy minister and Pahang MCA chairman, saying “Utar is something we (MCA and Chinese community) have longed for and the day has come for us to turn it into a top-class university in the region and the world.”
Ex-Tarcian Datuk Lee Hwa Beng’s wish is to see as many children from poor families studying in TAR College but minus the hardship he underwent.
In the case of Lee, now a successful businessman, the state assemblyman set up an interest-free RM200,000 student loan fund in 1994 which provided loans of between RM3,000 and RM5,000 a year for deserving students.
Lee, 48, said he had to take a loan to study pre-university in the college in 1973 and 1974 before getting another three qualifications – Diploma of Commerce, Associated Certified Chartered Accountants (ACCA) and Institute of Chartered Secretaries and Administrators (ICSA).
Recalling his college days, Lee said: “I shared a room with four other students, ate very little to cut expenses and had to hitch hike my way home in Malacca every month simply because I could not afford the RM3.80 return fare.”
Upon working, Lee sponsored two of his siblings, who also studied in TAR College, as he understood too well that education was the only way for poor families to get out of the vicious cycle of poverty. It was also at TAR College that he met his future wife. He married his college sweetheart in 1982 after five years of courtship.
To support Utar, Lee is organising a fund-raising event for Utar, reminding the Chinese community with the saying yin shui si yuan (when you drink water, always remember its source).