uitm logoJune 1 – Even though Malaysia elected a new government, racism continues to be displayed openly as those who sign a petition objecting to opening up Universiti Teknologi Mara (UiTM) to non-Malays cite Malay rights and the country’s social contract.

Several petitioners point out that many other universities accept non-Malays, ignoring the fact that it is just simply racist to set up a public institution, one which is funded by taxpayers of all races, only for one ethnic group in a multi-racial country.

Although Article 153 of the Federal Constitution mentions that Malays and natives of Sabah and Sarawak (the term “Bumiputera” does not exist in the Constitution) have a “special position”, the clause does not make quotas or privileges in education, public service, or business mandatory.

Article 153(2) merely states that any such quotas can be implemented if the government considers them reasonable and if they are perceived necessary to safeguard the special position of the Malays and natives of Sabah and Sarawak.

In other words, if the government finds it unreasonable to maintain the racially exclusive nature of a public university, it is not unconstitutional to open it up to all Malaysians.  

Chinese and Tamil schools cannot be considered the equivalent of UiTM or the Malay-dominant matriculation, simply because those schools do not prohibit the entrance of students from other ethnic groups, unlike UiTM which is exclusively for Malays.

A reported 18 per cent of the 2016 SJKC (national-type Chinese primary schools) batch were non-Chinese, totaling 97,252 out of 540,290 students. 

Having said that, perhaps the core of the issue, which no one is really addressing, is our irrational desire to cling to our communal roots in a multi-racial society. This applies to Malays, Chinese, Indians, and Sabahans and Sarawakians.

Even though Chinese schools are open to all races, the tendency for some Chinese Malaysians to grow up only with other Chinese children in school, and later on to work in predominantly Chinese companies, does harm national unity.

Living in a Chinese-speaking home, going to Chinese school, and working in a Chinese-dominant office would also naturally affect one’s ability to speak the national language fluently if one does not regularly mix with Malays or other ethnic groups.

It is disingenuous for DAP, MCA and Gerakan to say that Chinese schools are not the problem when some Chinese Malaysians spend their entire lives, from young to adulthood, only within their own community and do not know how to speak the national language.

If we cannot promote diversity in our neighbourhoods, the least we can do is ensure that our children go to the same schools.

The government should immediately improve the standards of the public school system, provide Mandarin and Tamil language classes in public schools, eradicate racism and Islamic policies in those schools, and rename several national schools after Chinese and Indian leaders, before it abolishes vernacular education.

Then we would not be removing parents’ choice of sending their children to good, affordable schools.

All pre-university programmes and public universities should also be opened up to Malaysians across race.

There are other less insular ways to protect our culture besides vernacular education, such as increasing the visibility of minority groups in the public sphere by naming schools, roads, and buildings after them, and promoting qualified non-Malays in the civil service.

We must all give and take if we want to build a truly diverse country.