Government’s justification of UiTM’s bumiputra-only policy is unconstitutional


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Lawyers for Liberty (LFL) refers to Higher Education Minister Zambry Kadir’s statement in Parliament last Wednesday where he stated the Mara Technological University (UiTM) remains closed to non-bumiputra students.

The minister cited a report from the “Bumiputra Economic Congress” in 2024 on the “socioeconomic gap” as justification.

It is unreasonable and absurd that the government is basing this decision on a supposed ‘report’ issued by the so-called Bumiputra Economic Congress.

This race-based congress cannot be said to be objective or impartial. The methodology, if any, employed in arriving at its findings is tainted by a lack of racial inclusivity, intersectionality and the very obvious self-interest of those involved. It is well-known that its purposes were political in nature.

The problems of using the ‘report’ as a determinant of educational policy is highlighted in the recent debacle on opening the cardiothoracic surgery programme in UiTM. Despite an urgent need to address the shortage [of specialists in the field] to bolster the national healthcare system, this was ignored by the government, which insisted that the “special interest of bumiputras” trumps all concerns.

Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim as recently as August in an interview with CNBC had declared that he would extend affirmative action from being race-based to needs-based.

But this was yet another in a series of political grandstanding not backed by any meaningful action by his administration, as shown with Zambry’s statement in Parliament last Wednesday.

The larger issue of the constitutionality of UiTM being exclusively for the bumiputras remains unresolved. This is no small matter. It is a national shame that Malaysia still maintains racially exclusive public institutions, 67 years after independence.

READ MORE:  Unconstitutional, unlawful to restrict UiTM to only bumiputras - LFL

Let us be clear that nothing in Article 153 permits the establishment of a racially exclusive university in Malaysia. Article 153 only provides for a reasonable proportion of educational privileges to be reserved for the ethnic Malays and the natives of Sabah and Sarawak.

Hence, excluding non-bumiputras from enrolling in UITM is unconstitutional, as it breaches the stipulations of this provision – that the legitimate interests of other communities be considered and that any reservations made for bumiputras be reasonably proportionate with that interest.

It cannot be denied any longer that UiTM’s policy of exclusivity is akin to the apartheid system.

The refusal to consider the legitimate interests of other communities, the resort to empty racial rhetoric, and references to ‘reports’ made by groups with obvious vested interests only serve to aggravate the racial nature of UiTM’s admission policy.

There is no justification available for the government to maintain UiTM as exclusively for bumiputras. This is a breach of the Federal Constitution, and the continued refusal to acknowledge this is a catastrophic failure by the government to uphold our Constitution.

The LFL thus urges the government to immediately address the unconstitutionality of UiTM’s bumiputra exclusive policy and take immediate steps to ensure that it complies with Article 153 of the Federal Constitution.

The opportunities that the ethnic minorities are deprived of due to UiTM’s unconstitutional exclusive bumiputra policy must not continue to blight our country and its future any further.

Zaid Malek is director of Lawyers for Liberty.

The views expressed in Aliran's media statements and the NGO statements we have endorsed reflect Aliran's official stand. Views and opinions expressed in other pieces published here do not necessarily reflect Aliran's official position.
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Gursharan Singh
Gursharan Singh
30 Jun 2024 8.40pm

May be Unconstitutional only if those in political leadership agree and Judges gives judgement but can or will on their own without any formal application Judiciary provides it’s wisdom in a judgement followed by relevant Authorities enforce it.
Bless all

KF Kan
KF Kan
30 Jun 2024 2.58pm

Is it true that foreign students can and are admitted into UiTM? What about funding that comes from non bumi taxpayers?

30 Jun 2024 12.44pm

Our educational framework should be based on meritocracy rather than eccentric ideas. The end losers are those who think they are pleasing just a section of the society. They must remember that there should be a holistic approach to boost national interest.