It must be much more than students and politics
It is more useful now to focus on what the government is doing and plans to do than on the pile of broken election promises.
AS Malaysian statutes go, the Universities and University Colleges Act (UUCA) is easily among the most frequently discussed because it pulls and pushes the levers of a powerful and influential system. Unfortunately, with that comes the temptation to wield the Act as a political tool.
Introduced in 1971 to “provide for the establishment, maintenance and administration of universities and university colleges and for other matters connected with it”, the Act has a direct impact on how our youth are moulded.
Since then, it has been a fixture in our national conversations on politics and education that intensified whenever it was amended, particularly if the aim was to restrict student activities.
We are set to have another round of amendments. This time, the government says it wants to allow more freedom. But that does not mean there is no need for a proper examination of how the Act will change.
On Friday, Education Minister Dr Maszlee Malik said the Cabinet approved proposed amendments to the UUCA.
These will also affect the Private Higher Education Institutions Act and Education Institutions (Discipline) Act.
The Bills to amend these statutes are expected to be tabled before the current meeting of Parliament ends next month.
The big change, according to the minister, is that students will no longer be barred from involvement in political party activities within the campus.
He explained that this was in line with the government’s political transformation to strengthen democracy and to provide more space for university students to speak up and be part of on-campus political activities.
He added that the move would help produce well-rounded graduates who can offer views on current issues.
Dr Maszlee said the review of the UUCA was necessary because several of its provisions have to be adjusted to suit the spirit and intent of the new government’s transformation plan.
“Spirit and intent” is a key phrase. Critics would readily point out that one of the promises in Pakatan Harapan’s election manifesto was that it would repeal the UUCA because “it is often times abused to suppress freedom of students”.
Now that it is clear that the Act will continue to be in force, although with amendments, another item is added to the list of Pakatan’s unfulfilled campaign pledges.
We should not overlook the fact that in committing to do away with the UUCA and other Acts that govern institutions of higher learning, the coalition also said it would replace them with laws that “guarantee high quality of education and academic freedom as well as freedom of speech and association”.
It added that these goals would be achieved by granting autonomy to the universities.
Half a year has passed since the general election. It is more useful now to focus on what the government is doing and plans to do than on the pile of broken election promises. We want to see the country moving in the right direction driven by the right policies and strategies.
This is why it is important that the government works hard at articulating its actions and plans.
We know that the UUCA will soon expand the students’ political freedom, but what else can be improved in how our universities are governed?
We look forward to a boost in our students’ activism and political participation, but we hope to see a lot more than that.
Since it will not be scrapped, the UUCA must play a pivotal role – to support and enable our universities in producing graduates and knowledge that contribute to the country’s progress.