It must be much more than stu­dents and pol­i­tics

The Star Malaysia - - Nation -

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.

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