For Chan Meng Fai, that was the amount his mother earned each month tapping rubber in Gelang Patah.
Still, it did not stop his parents from sending him, their eldest of five children, to college.
They told him this was the way for the family and their future generation to break free from the vicious cycle of poverty.
For the next five years, Chan’s parents and his siblings continued to stay in a squatter house in the rubber estate, surviving on his lorry driver father’s RM1,000 monthly income.
In 2002, Chan graduated with a Bachelor of Science in Information Systems from the Tunku Abdul Rahman University College, or better known as TAR UC.
A father of two now, the 41-year-old, who works as a manager in his hometown, said he would not have made it if not for his family’s sacrifices and TAR UC.
He said the fees were a third of that charged by other private institutions, with needy students being able to get financial assistance.
In fact, Chan is a typical example of the majority of TAR UC’s 200,000 graduates.
Set up by MCA in 1969 as the Tunku Abdul Rahman College, fondly known as TAR College (it upgraded to a university college in 2013), its mission was to provide tertiary education for children from poor families who could not gain access to public universities and could not afford to go to private universities.
All was well until a year ago. For this year and the next, Finance Minister Lim Guan Eng has deprived RM60mil in government grants to the institution.
Termed “matching grants”, they are meant to fund the institution’s operating expenses in order to keep the fees low.
Apart from being frugal in its management, it was the RM1.0123bil matching grants from the government between 1969 and 2018 that made the fees affordable for students from poor families.
Lim, who is the DAP secretary-general, insisted that he would only give TAR UC the grants if it severed its ties with MCA.
“This is using official power to take personal revenge and at the expense of the future generation,” said a former minister.
He advised Lim to go to Facebook to see public comments on him and do some self-reflection.
Many TAR UC graduates are disturbed by the issue.
Tan Sri Lau Yin Pin broke down shortly after he started talking about TAR UC.
The 70-year-old chartered accountant spoke of how the institution was conceived and how MCA, the then Alliance government and the Chinese community came together to make it happen.
He was among the first batch of 103 students in the School of Business Studies and the first to graduate with a distinction.
Lau recalled the “dancing shadows” in class.
It was in the early 1970s and the college had to conduct classes in rented premises, mostly at night.
The dancing shadows were from the light shining on the ceiling fan, he recalled.
Life might have been hard then but he cherished the early days.
And seeing the institution developed, including having its main campus in Setapak, Kuala Lumpur, was gratifying.
The first fundraising to set up TAR UC was in 1968 and it continued to raise funds to build its main campus.
In the early 1990s, then MCA president Tun Dr Ling Liong Sik started another round of fundraising to expand the main campus and build four branch campuses.
Fast track to 2019, MCA president Datuk Seri Dr Wee Ka Siong is not only fighting to keep the party’s legacy, he has also to safeguard the interest of the future generation which needs affordable tertiary education.
He pointed out that TAR UC’s annual intake of between 6,000 and 8,000 students, made up mostly of Chinese applicants, is almost the same as the total number of Chinese freshies in the 20 public universities in the country.
The highly subsidised public universities charge low fees.
Private institutions are clearly beyond the reach of many poor or even middle-income families.
This is why TAR UC, one of the nation’s oldest tertiary learning institutions and with an impressive track record, must be here to stay.
Almost half of the accountants in the country are from TAR UC.
Dr Wee, in an emotionally charged speech at the opening of MCA’s annual general meeting on Sunday, said he would fight Lim until the end to save TAR UC.
“I want to tell Lim Guan Eng that’s enough, we had enough! Stop suppressing TAR UC and stop the political persecution!”
There were copious tears shed as some 1,500 central delegates from all over the country gathered at Dewan San Choon as the party chief spoke of how Lim used his ministerial powers and influence in his bid to tear down TAR UC over the past year.
Yes, MCA set up TAR UC in 1969 and continued its mission despite all the challenges, and this time it would not be different, he said.
Dr Wee said the party never treated TAR UC as its private property.
The institution is here because of the party and the Chinese community and well-wishers who believed in the importance of education for the people and development of the country, he added.
“We have proven to be able to do that. And TAR UC is here to stay,” Dr Wee said.
On a more positive note, the ongoing TAR UC issue saw a surge in public support.
People from all levels came out in support of the cause.
Dr Wee said it was heartening to see how people could be so supportive, like hawkers willingly donating a portion of their earnings from each bowl of noodles sold for TAR UC for the sake of the future generation’s education.
Dr Wee told Lim in no uncertain terms that he would fight him till the end if he continued attacking TAR UC.
Lim’s acts are also seen as waging a war against the Chinese community which always held education close to heart.
The recent Tanjung Piai by-election is perhaps the first warning from voters to Lim and DAP that enough is enough.
Apart from the many issues plaguing the people since the general election last year that are directly traced to DAP, the attacks on TAR UC is one that clearly shows that DAP does not have the interest of the people at heart.
That Pakatan Harapan lost the Tanjung Piai seat to Barisan Nasional by 15,086 votes is shocking.
But this was not unexpected as DAP, which Pakatan depended on to bring in the Chinese votes, failed to do so.
Pakatan only got 33% of the Chinese votes compared with 68% in GE14, which was only 18 months ago.
Barisan, which depends on MCA to bring in the Chinese votes, saw its share go up to 67% compared with 32% last year.
Barisan candidate Datuk Seri Dr Wee Jeck Seng whipped Pakatan’s Karmaine Sardini.
Even Prime Minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad who campaigned in Tanjung Piai was shocked by the huge defeat.
He said he had expected Pakatan to lose by 2,000 votes.
While there is no finger pointing following the disastrous outing, there is the obvious writing on the wall.
What is DAP to the Chinese 18 months after the last general election?
It was credited for bringing 95% of Chinese votes to Pakatan and itself winning 42 parliamentary seats.
As the saying goes, those who play with fire will get burnt.
And the MCA president summed things up with this Chinese saying: “True gold fears no fire.”
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