The lan­guage of knowl­edge

New Straits Times - - Higher Ed -

ROZANA SANI

THERE was no lack of nay-say­ers when the idea of establishing a national univer­sity which uses the Malay lan­guage as the main medium was mooted by a group of Malay in­tel­lec­tu­als in 1968.

Up till then, there was only one univer­sity in ex­is­tence — Univer­sity of Malaya (UM) — which has its roots in the Bri­tish era of the pre-in­de­pen­dence days of the coun­try and nat­u­rally has English as the lan­guage of in­struc­tion. At that time, stu­dents ei­ther pur­sued higher education at UM or went abroad where the English lan­guage ruled in the aca­demics.

But the group of in­tel­lec­tu­als led by Pro­fes­sor Emer­i­tus Datuk Abu Bakar Abd Hamid, Dr Syed Husin Ali, Zainal Abidin Abd Wahid, Mohd Zain Abd Ma­jid, Tengku Sam­sul Bahrin and Mohd Ghaz­ali Abd Rahman per­sisted in their goal to make Ba­hasa Me­layu the lan­guage of knowl­edge in the pro­posed univer­sity.

Now 47 years on, Univer­siti Ke­bangsaan Malaysia (UKM) has de­fied the crit­ics: it has pro­duced some 182,375 grad­u­ates and its aca­demi­cians and re­searchers win ac­co­lades for some of the most highly cited re­search in the world — all us­ing the Malay lan­guage as the lan­guage of knowl­edge.

“UKM fought for the sovereignty of the lan­guage. When it opened its doors in 1970, it be­came a pioneer in the use of the Malay lan­guage as the lan­guage of knowl­edge in the var­i­ous cour­ses of­fered,” said Abu Bakar, 79, at the re­cent an­niver­sary cel­e­bra­tion of UKM in Bangi, Se­lan­gor.

The univer­sity was re­garded as an av­enue for stu­dents from Malay-stream national schools to pur­sue higher education, thus it was recog­nised as an in­stru­ment in strength­en­ing the ex­ist­ing education sys­tem.

“The es­tab­lish­ment was driven by a de­mand from the pub­lic who saw the need for such an education in­sti­tu­tion as only the English-ed­u­cated could gain en­try into univer­sity up till then.

“When there is a sys­tem that al­lows the dis­crim­i­nated against in terms of lan­guage to go to the next level, they will show their worth and thrive. Op­por­tu­ni­ties must be es­tab­lished and doors must be opened,” he said, re­lat­ing the sen­ti­ments that led to the mo­men­tous event.

While there were doubts about the qual­ity of grad­u­ates es­pe­cially in the fields of Sci­ence, Tech­nol­ogy, En­gi­neer­ing and Math­e­mat­ics, Abu Bakar said it was proven in no time that they were on par with those from the more es­tab­lished UM, the only com­peti­tor at that time.

And the tra­di­tion con­tin­ues with UKM be­ing one of the five re­search uni­ver­si­ties in the coun­try to­day, gar­ner­ing awards at the in­ter­na­tional stage.

While the use of Malay lan­guage has thrived in the aca­demics, in ex­er­cises such as rank­ings, some say it ham­pers higher achieve­ment.

“Univer­sal trends are chal­leng­ing the use of lo­cal lan­guages in higher education. While glob­al­i­sa­tion is an is­sue, the greater is­sue is con­fi­dence,” said Dr Syed Husin Ali, 81.

This chal­lenge is re­lated to the prob­lem of fund­ing for the academia, he opined.

“Re­search ef­forts and pub­li­ca­tions in the national lan­guage must push on. Pol­i­tics can in­flu­ence aca­demics. But cre­ativ­ity must be en­cour­aged. There must be aca­demic free­dom, re­gard­less of lan­guage,” he added.

Abu Bakar and Syed Husin were speak­ing at a di­a­logue on

(Nos­tal­gia of Ex­cel­lence talk) as part of the cel­e­bra­tions.

In his wel­come speech, UKM vice chan­cel­lor Pro­fes­sor Datuk Seri Dr Noor Azlan Ghaz­ali said in its 47 years, the univer­sity has faced var­i­ous chal­lenges to pro­duce highly-skilled, pro­fes­sional and con­sci­en­tious hu­man cap­i­tal from all seg­ments of the Malaysian so­ci­ety.

“To do this, UKM will con­tinue to en­hance the qual­ity of its teach­ing, learn­ing and re­search at all lev­els and fac­ulty — ap­pro­pri­ate for the de­mands of the time. It will con­tinue to strive to be­come a renowned and glob­ally rep­utable re­search univer­sity with the Malay lan­guage as its lan­guage of knowl­edge.”

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Malaysia

© PressReader. All rights reserved.