Tun Dr Arshad Ayub. File photo: Bernama

By Syed Azwan Syed Ali

SHAH ALAM: Some 53 years ago, Tun Dr Arshad Ayub, when he was director of Institute Teknologi Mara (ITM) or Universiti Teknologi Mara (UiTM) as it is now known, proposed changing the diet of rice to bread in an effort to produce more Malay and Bumiputera professionals.

Many found the idea by the ITM founder and director, a post he held from 1967 to 1975, a weird one, and to be honest, this writer also wonders what is the connection between one’s diet and producing professionals.

Arshad said he changed the diet of then ITM students, who usually had rice for their lunch, to only sandwich, to save time.

“There were so many students, they had to queue for close to an hour to eat. So, for lunch time, we gave sandwiches. They could eat the sandwich anywhere, easier than eating rice. Eating is important, but time to learn is more important.

“Why do we eat? because we are hungry. Why not eat less (rice), what is important is the food value. Before, they had beef with rice, but the rice was changed to bread,” he said when met by Bernama at his residence at Section 7 here, which is not far from the UiTM main campus.

Despite the justification of saving time, many failed to understand Arshad’s philosophy and thought on diet change for the Malays, who came from a family of fishermen, rubber tappers or farmers, pursuing their studies to become professionals.

At that time, Arshad’s students, majority of whom were from the village, also had other issues to deal with, such as accommodation, shortage of lecture rooms at Jalan Othman, Petaling Jaya, apart from the Public Service Department not recognising the diploma from ITM.

“My job at that time was to find students who could not get a place at university. I had to find other ways to provide opportunities for the Malays (to pursue studies) because at that time, there was only Universiti Malaya,” said Arshad, who was born in 1928 in Parit Keroma, Muar, Johor.

Arshad’s involvement in education began in 1965 as the Principal of the Mara College of Business and Professional Studies. In 1967, the college was transformed into Institute Technology Mara (ITM) of which he became the first director.

Arshad, who had served as secretary-general at three ministries prior to his retirement from the civil service in 1983 and was also involved in the national planning agenda, especially after the independence era (Arshad’s development agenda became the core of second Prime Minister Tun Abdul Razak), is far-sighted.

This is evidenced by his firm stance to maintain English as the medium of instruction in ITM during the nationalist resurgence to make the Malay language as the official medium of instruction in the 70s.

“I maintain English as the medium of instruction. Although the medium of instruction (Malay) was changed in schools, they get the same chance to enter ITM. If you have the SPM certificate, you can enter (ITM) but have to study English for six months,” he added.

But Arshad is not satisfied with the Malays and Bumiputera being bilingual only, for he also wants them to be tri-lingual” by making compulsory for ITM students to learn Mandarin, Tamil or Japanese during the first and second year of study, and either German, French or Russian during the second or third year.

“This is what I regard as “asset” for the generation at that time,” he added.

Arshad received his early education at Sekolah Melayu Parit Keruma in Muar, Johor and then at the Government English School (also in Muar) before going to the College of Agriculture in Serdang, Selangor, where he graduated with a Diploma in Agriculture in 1954.

Arshad, who is celebrating his 92nd birthday this Nov 15, is still sharp, a quick thinker and swift with repartees, making the writer to feel relax and comfortable, despite the interview having exceeded an hour.

Talking about the country’s independence, Arshad said his life during the British era, the hard life during the Japanese Occupation where he only had tapioca to eat and living in fear, the colonial era until independence and the exposure he got while studying in the United Kingdom (UK) and Switzerland, formed his view of what independence is.

He said independence can only be achieved with the freedom of thought.

“To me, first is to free the minds. Add value to our lives. Learn more and think positive. For example, those who are 18-years-old, what is important is voting power. Not just talking, gossiping, being unpatriotic, but to acquire knowledge.

“What’s the point of having a PHD in accountancy, but without the ACCA (professional qualification in the field of accounting) and cannot sign documents. We have to change our mindset, must have professional qualification,” said Arshad, who believes that professional qualification is more important than academic qualification.

When the country achieved its independence in 1957, followed by the formation of Malaysia in 1963, Arshad was then overseas pursuing his studies at the University College of Wales Aberystwyth in the United Kingdom, graduating with an Honours degree in Economics and Statistics in 1958. and at the Management Development Institute in Lausanne, Switzerland (now IMD), where he obtained a Diploma in Business Administration in 1964.

He was conferred the Seri Setia Mahkota (SSM) award, the highest federal award which carries the title “Tun” during an investiture ceremony at Istana Melawati, Putrajaya, last Aug 17 in conjunction with the birthday of the Yang di-Pertuan Agong, Al-Sultan Abdullah Ri’ayatuddin Al-Mustafa Billah Shah.

Arshad told this writer that he was conferred an award that came with the title “Tan Sri” by Al-Sultan Abdullah’s father, Sultan Ahmad Shah some 40 years ago (in 1980).

“I also attended the wedding reception of Al-Sultan Abdullah and the Raja Permaisuri Agong Tuanku Hajah Azizah Aminah Maimunah Iskandariah,” said the all-time architect of the development of Malay professionals. – Bernama