Tan Sri Dato’ Seri Utama Arshad Ayub was born in Muar, Johor on 15 November, 1928. The oldest child in a modest rubber tapper family, Tan Sri Arshad was raised in an environment of hardship and poverty. He suffered from typhoid, and following the death of his parents, was tasked with the responsibility of raising his four younger siblings. As a poverty-stricken and deprived child living in the decade before the Second World War, the future seemed bleak. Yet through sheer determination, diligence and discipline he overcame great odds to rise above the trials and tribulations of his early life. In fact, it was those difficult early years which were so formative to his subsequent calling as an educator and civil servant. His experience of poverty made him all the more determined to help disadvantaged children overcome their adverse circumstances through education. As he says, “I was exposed to poverty so I understand what poverty is.
Not one to be easily discouraged, Tan Sri Arshad took on every educational opportunity afforded him to advance and improve his position in life. In 1954 he graduated with a Diploma in Agriculture from the College of Agriculture in Serdang, Selangor. He was awarded the Colonial and Development scholarship in 1953 to study at the University College of Wales Aberystwyth in the United Kingdom, graduating with an Honours degree in Economics and Statistics in 1958. In 1964, Tan Sri Arshad obtained a Diploma in Business Administration from the Management Development Institute in Lausanne, Switzerland (now IMD).
Tan Sri Arshad’s involvement in education began in 1965 as the Principal of the MARA College of Business and Professional Studies. In 1967 Maktab MARA was transformed into Institute Technology MARA (ITM) of which Tan Sri Arshad became the First Director serving with courage and determination from 1965 to 1975. He laid the foundation for the Institut Teknologi MARA (now UiTM) and led one of the most successful education initiatives in the country.
Tasked by the late Prime Minister Tun Abdul Razak bin Hussein, with the challenge of remedying the under representation of Bumiputra in the professions, Tan Sri Arshad relinquished well-trodden paths and blazed new trails. He assembled a multiracial team of educationists with the right mix of courage and passion to do things not done before. He told his staff that everyone can be educated. He believed that among the young there are many “late bloomers” who are largely ignored by the prevailing education system.
Tan Sri Arshad played a critical role in UiTM’s formative years by nurturing it with concepts and programmes then unknown and unexplored in the higher education sector in Malaysia. He believed that entry points into tertiary courses should be flexible but exit points must be well regulated. Planning for years ahead, he was the first in the country to introduce courses in applied science, mass communications, business management, architecture, public administration (Plantation Estate Management) and hotel catering at the tertiary level. Such courses were unheard of in the 1960’s.
Long before other institutions embraced the innovation of twinning programmes, where Malaysian students were able to get a quality education abroad at a fraction of the cost, Tan Sri Arshad teamed up with Ohio and Kentucky universities in the United States to pioneer “twinning programmes” that today are the rage at many centers of tertiary education in the country.
Tan Sri Arshad also made UiTM the first Malaysian institution to embrace external UK programmes in law and professional accounting such as LLB, ICSA and ACCA. In the 1960s, UiTM was the first institution in Malaysia to offer the prestigious Association of Chartered Certified Accountants (ACCA) programme. Likewise, under Tan Sri Arshad, UiTM was the first institution in the country to offer full-time education for the well-respected LLB (London) external degree. He stuck to English as medium of instruction and changed the students’ diet, bread for breakfast and sandwiches for lunch, and introduced students to individual counseling and guidance.
ITM was Tan Sri Arshad’s gauntlet. He put his heart and soul into its beginnings, nurturing it with concepts and programmes then unheard of in the higher education sector. The fact that the students were in some ways “late bloomers” like him, spurred him on. For the thousands of school leavers who were not qualified for a place in University Malaya (the only one then) the visionary Arshad gave them an alternative to get an education. As he says, “Life is never perfect but you must make the best use of what is given.” There is no doubt that he was directly responsible for the conversion of ITM from a time and place where students took external British examinations, to an institution offering a long list of professional courses, and secure an ITM diploma and later, a degree.
When Tan Sri Arshad opened UiTM’s doors in 1965, the student population was only 219 with just 11 lecturers. When he left in 1975, there were 6,856 students and 904 lecturers serving 60 programmes in 13 different schools and branch campuses in Kota Kinabalu, Kuching, Arau (Perlis) and (Dungun) Terengganu. Today UiTM is the nation’s largest institution of higher learning in terms of size and population.
Tan Sri Arshad is widely regarded as a far-sighted educator who has had a tremendous impact on business and education in Malaysia for nearly half a century. He fervently believes that a second chance is everyone’s right especially if there are no initial environmental disadvantages. It is no exaggeration to say that he gave hope to many young Malaysians who had little or no hope for an academic future. From an early age he knew what it was like to be poverty-stricken, and that to gain a footing in the “land of opportunities” one had to go to school. Without education, no form of liberation – mental or physical – can take place. He learned the attributes of determination, resourcefulness and hard work early in life.
Aberystwyth Recognition - Arshad and Zaleha with their children in Aberystwyth in celebration of his honorary award. From left: Azmir, Azmi, Azlin, Arshad, Zaleha, Soraya (daughter-in-law) and Azman, 1995.
Following his time at ITM Tan Sri Arshad steadily climbed the ladder of the civil service to reach the rank of Secretary General of three Ministries by the time he retired in 1983. These were the then Ministry of Primary Industries, Ministry of Agriculture, and the Ministry of Land and Regional Development. In addition, Tan Sri Arshad was appointed as member of the Harun Salary Commission for statutory bodies and was also entrusted with responsibilities as Deputy Governor of Bank Negara, Malaysia’s central bank. He also served as the Deputy Director General of the Economic Planning Unit.
On the go - Arshad believed strongly in living a full student’s life and was keen in all activities, sports, cultural activities and literary development programmes. Badminton was one of his favourite games and he excelled in it.
Today, Tan Sri Arshad continues to sit on the board of a number of public agencies and private corporations, besides serving on the board of numerous non-profit and voluntary organisations. As a former civil servant par excellence and Chairman of the Board of Directors of University of Malaya as well as Pro-Chancellor of the Universiti Teknologi Mara (UiTM), he is also Chancellor of INTI International University College and KPJUC University College Of Nursing & Health Sciences, Governor of Kolej Tuanku Jaafar, Vice Chairman of Lembaga Bersekutu Pemegang Amanah Pengajian Tinggi Islam Malaysia and member of the Board of Bistari Johore Berhad. Tan Sri Arshad has a deep interest in the role of academia in producing a new generation of national leaders as well as in contributing to human capital development and the nation-building process.
ITM offered Tan Sri Arshad many defining moments. His 10 years with ITM allowed him to achieve the basic educational goals as enshrined in the New Economic Policy (NEP). Life after ITM sees him continue to contribute to a growing educational sector and industry. His unerring commitment and dedication in shaping Malaysia’s education landscape through education reforms and innovation truly personifies the Spirit of Merdeka and its pursuit of excellence.