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2013 Merdeka Award: ‘I believe in giving second chances’

OUTSTANDING: A joint recipient of the award in the Education and Community category, Tan Sri Arshad Ayub shares how his early experiences shaped his contributions to the education sector

THE contributions of Tan Sri Arshad Ayub to education make him a titan in the eyes of many.

But he is a simple man who just wants to help people to become more employable, earn a living and enjoy basic needs to lead a good life.

Those who follow the story of his life and achievements know that it is a lifelong pursuit.

Arshad is among the foremost education visionaries in Malaysia. He laid the foundation for Institut Teknologi MARA (ITM, now Universiti Teknologi MARA or UiTM), heading one of the most successful education initiatives in the country.

From an enrolment of only 219 students guided by 11 lecturers, UiTM is now the country’s largest tertiary institution with 27 satellite and branch campuses attended by nearly 500,000 students.


Arshad receiving his award from Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak.
Arshad was recently awarded the 2013 Merdeka Award for his contributions (see accompanying story). He is a joint recipient of the award in the Education and Community category for outstanding contributions in shaping the local education landscape through the development of professional education, and educational reforms and innovation that have resulted in education becoming more accessible to Malaysians.

“It was a great surprise indeed (to win the award) but when I looked back and recollected what I’ve done, I realised that I opened the door to more opportunities for people to pursue education,” said Arshad.

Today he serves as UiTM’s pro-chancellor in addition to serving in other educational institutions such as University of Malaya (chairman of the board of directors) and INTI International University  (chancellor).

However, he credits part of his success to the hardship of his early life which taught him the importance of working hard.

Realising that education is a path to a better life, he took a course in agriculture as a private candidate. In 1958 he graduated with an honours degree in Economics and Statistics from the University College of Wales Aberystwyth while on the Colonial Development and Welfare scholarship provided by the British Government.

A year of Diploma in Business Administration studies (1964) at the Management Development Institute in Lausanne in Switzerland broadened his horizon to new possibilities. “The experience in Lausanne was tremendous. Although I did not teach, the training helped me a great deal,” he said.

He then explored new concepts and introduced new courses at ITM when he took the helm as its principal from 1965 to 1975.


UiTM's beginning in Dewan Latihan Rida 1956.

Prior to his stint at ITM, he worked in Penang as an economics officer tasked with promoting industrial development in rural areas.

“Going into rural areas and meeting rubber tappers gave me the idea of introducing the Diploma in Plantation Management at ITM. This vision was in line with the (New) Economic Policy of restructuring society to eradicate poverty, so the opportunity (to make a difference) was there.”

He also introduced programmes such as applied science, mass communications and architecture, which were unheard of in the 1960s. The courses were a boon to students who needed training and formal qualifications especially when there were only a few tertiary institutions and limited opportunities for further studies in those days.


Arshad has made UiTM a major tertiary institution in the country.

“I believe in giving second chances. There are those who need them. And not all students can go to universities even though parents always want children to do so.

“And universities then were focused on academic development,” he added.

Even though there are more colleges and universities today, he is of the opinion that UiTM will still serve a purpose as there are many “late bloomers” who are largely ignored by the current education system.

“Too many institutions focus on exam results. While the emphasis on exams is to gauge progress, there is no guarantee that better results make a better student. Even though universities are measured by rankings or achievement of departments, students are the outcome. That is why till today, UiTM makes sure students get between three and six months of internship to train them well. If I, with a life of poverty and hardship, can make it, why not others?”



SHARIFAH ARFAH | sarfah@nst.com.my NST Channels Learning Curve 09/03/2014
Tags: tokoh, uitm, universiti
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