The Royal Professor Ungku Aziz
The Royal Professor Ungku Aziz bin Ungku Abdul Hamid was born on 28 January 1922 in London, England.
Spending most of his childhood years in Johor Baru, he completed his primary education in 1934 and subsequently attended English College, Johor Baru. He completed his secondary schooling at Raffles College, Singapore. Ungku Aziz’s early education was interrupted by the Second World War and the Japanese Occupation but he managed to spend two years in Waseda University in Tokyo, to which he would later return to complete his post graduate study.
At the end of the Japanese Occupation, Ungku Aziz returned to Malaysia and commenced work in the civil service. Determined to continue his education, he enrolled in Raffles College where he obtained a Diploma in Arts in 1947 and went on to graduate with a first class Bachelor of Arts in Economics degree from the newly formed University of Malaya in 1951. Ungku Aziz obtained his Doctorate in Economics in 1966 from Waseda University, Tokyo.
When Ungku Aziz entered into a career in academia, his career proved to be exceptional both in its longevity and in its brilliance. Since his arrival at the university in 1952, Ungku Aziz has taught as a Lecturer in Economics at the University of Malaya, obtained full professorship, became the Dean of the Faculty of Arts, and then Dean of the Faculty of Economics and Administration.
In 1968, Ungku Aziz ascended to the helm of the university and succeeded Dr J H E Griffiths as Vice Chancellor of the University of Malaya, becoming both the first Malaysian and the longest serving person to hold the post. Having received a Royal Professorship in 1978. He remains the sole Malaysian to hold the title. Ungku Aziz retired as Vice Chancellor in 1988. As an Emeritus Professor after retirement, Ungku Aziz has not stood still. He holds directorships in several companies and continues to be involved in many national and international institutions.
In recognition of his career as an outstanding academician and his contributions to society, Ungku Aziz has been bestowed with numerous awards and honours, including the Ordre des Arts et des Lettres (France), the Grand Cordon of the Order of the Sacred Treasure (Japan), the Tun Abdul Razak Foundation Award (Malaysia). Ungku Aziz has also received many honorary degrees from universities worldwide.
Ungku Aziz’s devotion to his academic career has not detracted from his enjoyment of other pursuits. He remains a voracious reader, to the point of having to limit his purchases to no more than six books at a time. Ungku Aziz is also an aficionado of Malay poetry, and is currently compiling a database of traditional Malay pantun (poetic couplets). Ungku Aziz has enjoyed the art of photography from an early age, with his interest extending beyond merely taking pictures to dark room photograph development. He also believes in the importance of a healthy lifestyle, and to this day, never neglects his strict exercise regimen and adheres to a nutritious and balanced diet.
Ungku Aziz is married to Puan Azah Aziz, and is the father of Tan Sri Dr Zeti Akhtar Aziz, the current Governor of Bank Negara Malaysia, Malaysia’s central bank.
POVERTY ERADICATION AND RURAL DEVELOPMENT
Ungku Aziz has been responsible for much research in attempting to address domestic poverty. The subject, being dear to his heart, has spurred him to research the root causes of rural poverty in Malaysia, as well as identifying methods by which to alleviate poverty.
Ungku Aziz formulated the sarong index as a measure of rural poverty, and the Theory of Neglect as the reason behind rural poverty. He has posited that three main factors were the causative agents of Malaysian rural poverty, namely low productivity, discrimination and institutionalised obstacles.
His work was instrumental in spurring governmental rural development programmes aimed at benefiting the impoverished peasants and fisherfolk. Among the initiatives proposed by Ungku Aziz was the creation of monopolies to bypass the middlemen who previously acted as the distribution channel of produce to the retail market. Ungku Aziz has constantly sought to improve the level of opportunities available to the rural community, and many of his other achievements stem from his work on poverty eradication.
The creation of Lembaga Urusan dan Tabung Haji (the Pilgrims’ Fund and Management Board, generally referred to as Tabung Haji) was among Ungku Aziz’s most significant accomplishments. The idea behind Tabung Haji was to provide an avenue for Muslims to save money in order to perform the Haj, as well as an investment vehicle governed by Islamic principles.
Ungku Aziz’s recommendations were accepted by the government, and the Perbadanan Wang Simpanan Bakal-bakal Haji, a precursor to Tabung Haji, was established in 1962, with Ungku Aziz becoming the first depositor. This body was merged with the Pejabat Urusan Haji (Pilgrims Management Office) in Penang to form Tabung Haji in 1969, with an expanded role.
Tabung Haji, in its dual role, is responsible for preparing pilgrims for the Haj, and managing the logistical issues of the pilgrimage, such as plane tickets and accommodation. In its fund management role, in accordance with its Islamic focus, Ungku Aziz introduce profit sharing, inline with the Sharia principle as a means of income generation for the accrued deposits in Tabung Haji.
Tabung Haji is now a multi-billion Ringgit enterprise with a wide spread of investments administered according to Islamic tenets. Its success has earned admiration from many other Islamic nations. In spite of this, it has remained true to Ungku’s vision of a fund accessible and available to Muslims wishing to fulfil their religious obligation.
CONTRIBUTIONS TO THE NATIONAL COOPERATIVE MOVEMENT
As a means of alleviating poverty and of encouraging rural cooperation and development, Ungku Aziz has strongly backed the Malaysian co-operative movement. He has served as the President of ANGKASA, the National Co-operative Organisation of Malaysia, an organisation which acts as the apex body for Malaysian co-operatives and which also aims to educate the Malaysian public on the benefits of co-operatives.
In addition, Ungku Aziz served as the chairman of the University of Malaya Co-operative Book Shop from 1968 to 2002, and remains one of its directors.
In recognition of his efforts in this field, Ungku Aziz has been appointed as a member of the National Council of Co-operative Consultation, and of the Co-operative Development Fund Committee.
ECONOMIST AND ACADEMICIAN
As Vice Chancellor, Ungku Aziz did much to streamline the administration of the University of Malaya. Ungku Aziz was a vigorous proponent of the use of the national language in education as a unifying factor, as well as a language of academia and research, while stressing that mastery in English was essential for academic excellence. Ungku Aziz was also known for his concern for student welfare, and always remained approachable to students.
As an economist, Ungku Aziz is best known for his work on rural poverty and development, and on the productivity of labour. In the course of his research, Ungku Aziz posited that the per capita productivity of Malaysian agriculture lagged behind that of more developed nations due to a lack of technology and infrastructure, the vicious cycle of debt, and an exploitative marketing mechanism. Ungku Aziz has worked tirelessly with the Government and with others in trying to address these issues. Ungku Aziz was also one of the founding members of the Malaysian Economic Association, a think tank dedicated to discussing Malaysian economic issues.