IN the early 1990s, Tun Dr Ling Liong Sik literally wok-ed the talk when he and his fellow MCA leaders went on a tireless mission to raise funds for the expansion of Tunku Abdul Rahman College (TARC), the educational project under the party.
In between wielding the spatula to stir-fry char kuey teow and serving the Malaysian favourite to his “customers”, the then MCA president shared the merits of education with the people.
While their chief donned an apron at hawker centres, other party leaders, too, criss-crossed the country to step up their fund-raising effort.
The worthy cause received overwhelming support from a wide section of society, from hawkers, petty traders and taxi drivers to tycoons.
Some RM30mil was collected. The government followed with a ringgit-to-ringgit financial aid for the cause to expand the main campus and set up a branch campus each in Penang and Johor.
By 1995, the college, which was set up in 1969, had doubled its enrolment to 16,000.
The college was elevated to university college status in 2013. Tunku Abdul Rahman University College (TAR UC), with its main campus in Kuala Lumpur, also has branches in Penang, Johor, Perak, Pahang and Sabah.
TAR UC’s current board of governors chairman Datuk Seri Liow Tiong Lai is proud to note that the institution, which started with about 700 students and a few courses, now boasts 195 courses and a 28,000 enrolment.
“We aim to be a university by 2020,” says the former MCA president in an interview in conjunction with TAR UC’s 50th anniversary.
Year 2020 is indeed significant to TAR UC.
It was Prime Minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad’s Vision 2020 in the 1990s – to envisage a developed nation by 2020 – that helped propel MCA towards an expansion plan to produce more graduates for nation-building.
TAR UC has to date produced 200,000 graduates, including half of the country’s accountants.
The institution, says Liow, is among the world’s top 5% of Association of Chartered Certified Accountants (ACCA) tuition providers.
“It is presently the first and only institute of higher learning in Malaysia to be granted the Graduate Gateway status by Chartered Institute of Marketing (CIM), the world’s leading professional marketing body under the new CIM structure,” he says, adding that it has also notched up many achievements in local and overseas competitions.
Beyond the accolades, the institution is known for its noble aim to make quality tertiary education accessible to all, especially to students from low and middle-income families.
Tan Sri Dr Ting Chew Peh attributes the success of TAR UC to staff dedication, the hard work of MCA leaders, financial support from the government as well as the confidence of parents to send their children to study there.
The academician-turned-politician was MCA secretary-general and education bureau chief in the 1990s when TAR UC underwent rapid expansion.
From its inception till last year, TAR UC has received RM1.35bil from the government – RM1.012bil in operating expenditure and RM341mil in development funds.
MCA and TAR UC turned 70 and 50 respectively this year.
“We (MCA) have always believed in the importance of education and it being the people’s future.
“There were limited tertiary education opportunities in the country in the old days due to the lack of institutions of higher learning and the quota system.
“Many poor families could not afford to send their children to study abroad.
“The expansion of TAR College offered them a solution,” says Dr Ting, currently the chairman of Universiti Tunku Abdul Rahman (UTAR) council.
In the book, Ling Liong Sik and the Politics of Ethnic Chinese Unity (1995), it estimates that one out of every two Chinese post-secondary school students has passed through the gates of TAR UC.
The author G.P. Daniel wrote: “Almost every Chinese family (in Malaysia) has some kind of direct connection with TAR College at some point of time since 1980.”
But the road ahead appears tough for TAR UC as a result of reduced financial support from the present government.
TAR UC did not get any grant for operating expenses under Budget 2019.
Dr Ting, however, says MCA believes the problem will be resolved and is confident that TAR UC will continue to shine based on its affordable tuition fees and high academic standards.
“With the hard work and dedication from all involved, coupled with support of the public, TAR UC will keep going in the face of unparalleled challenges in the new era,” he adds.
Meanwhile, Liow says TAR UC has targeted to raise its enrolment to at least 30,000 in order to keep its costs low and maintain its low fee structure. He hopes more local students will make TAR UC their choice.
“We are also looking at recruiting students from South-East Asia and China,” he adds.
While the tuition fees for foreign students may be up to three times more than those of local students, Liow says it is still a viable choice for quality education.
The resilience of TAR UC can be traced to its roots.
MCA started fund-raising for the college in August 1968, a month after party leaders announced the project – a vision of then MCA president Tun Tan Siew Sin.
It welcomed its first batch of students in 1969 in rented premises in the Klang Valley before the main campus was completed in Setapak, Kuala Lumpur, in 1976, following a three-year fund-raising campaign by the party that saw overwhelming support from its members, Chinese guilds and associations, and philanthropists.
While MCA might have experienced ups and downs politically in the last 70 years, TAR UC remains a sturdy, progressive institution with its professionalism intact.
Scholarships and loans are available to underprivileged and deserving students.
Liow says the university college has 38 interest-free revolving student loan funds for such students, adding that 8,703 of them have benefited from over RM34mil disbursed since these were introduced in 1979.
Some 23,000 students have benefited from TAR UC’s Merit Scholarship, which provides up to 100% tuition fee waiver for students who excel academically.
“About RM100mil has been awarded since the scheme started in 1997,” he adds.
Quoting the saying “When the going gets tough, the tough get going”, Liow notes that TAR UC, with its good track record in the last 50 years, will soldier on no matter what.
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