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Public unis turn to special plate numbers in bid to shore up coffers

Universities are hoping to cash in on Malaysians' craze for special vehicle registration numbers to replace some of the income lost to Covid-19.

Nur Hasliza Mohd Salleh
3 minute read
Universiti Malaya is one of several public universities offering special licence plate numbers with their initials.
Universiti Malaya is one of several public universities offering special licence plate numbers with their initials.

With virus-related restrictions robbing public universities of a big chunk of the income they would normally receive from commercial activities, many have resorted to creative ways of finding money.

For one, they have exploited an expensive craze among Malaysians: special vehicle registration numbers.

Several universities are trying to cash in on this craze by offering special plates bearing their initials, in the hope of replacing some of the income lost to the Covid-19 crisis.

Universiti Malaya, the country’s oldest tertiary institution, has opened bidding to its staff including administration officers, lecturers and alumni to acquire vehicle registration numbers bearing the initials “UM”.

It is understood that the e-bidding system is already in place and awaiting the green light from the university’s top management.

According to UM’s e-bidding website, the Road Transport Department (JPJ) has approved the prefix “UM” for registration plates.

“Proceeds from the sale of these special vehicle registration numbers will be used for research, development and student affairs.

“In addition, this initiative will encourage more UM alumni to contribute to the university and strengthen ties between the alumni and the university,” it said.

A Universiti Malaya poster showing special vehicle registration numbers with the initials ‘UM’.

A spokesman for the university told MalaysiaNow that a dedicated team has been tasked with managing the new business.

The spokesman said the move would help alleviate the university’s financial problems.

For now, though, the special plates are only available for the UM community.

“Our focus is the staff and alumni,” the spokesman said.

MalaysiaNow reported this week that public universities will face a serious financial crisis as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic, as the suspension of physical classes and the closure of campuses have led to a drop in collection of fees for postgraduate and doctoral courses, as well as revenue from residential colleges and other joint activities with corporate bodies.

There are 20 public universities and 47 private universities in Malaysia, in addition to more than 30 university colleges and at least 10 foreign branch campuses.

Checks show that other local universities in addition to UM have set up online bidding websites for the sale of special number plates. These include Universiti Malaysia Terengganu, Universiti Teknologi Malaysia, Universiti Utara Malaysia, Universiti Putra Malaysia and Universiti Teknologi Mara.

Johor-based Universiti Tun Hussein Onn Malaysia, meanwhile, is offering 9,999 number plates bearing the initials “UTHM” to both the campus community and the public.

Lucrative craze

There is big money in the sale of special vehicle registration plates.

In June, Sabah JPJ collected RM3.4 million from over 3,000 people who were after registration numbers bearing the initials “SYG”, the short-form of the Malay word “sayang” (affection).

The highest bid for the series was for “SYG 1”. It fetched RM115,000, an all-time high for JPJ’s Online Vehicle Registration Number Bidding System, or JPJeBid.

The previous Pakatan Harapan government had approved the sale of special registration numbers by public universities to help them boost revenue.

Former transport minister Anthony Loke said the policy would help universities carry out their programmes.

“I hope the policy will be continued,” the senior DAP leader told MalaysiaNow.

Higher Education Minister Noraini Ahmad meanwhile expects “extraordinary” proceeds from the sale of the special numbers to be channelled to public universities.

“It would help with research grants as well as the universities’ development every year,” she told MalaysiaNow.