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Whose interest does the UUCA serve?

 (© | Flickr)

AS an editor, I’ve sometimes had to remind journalists who merely copy and paste from a press release that they are paid to think, question, and make sense of the issues they are writing about. A journalist’s role is not to be a stenographer. It’s to be a public intellectual that interrogates the information in hand and helps connect the dots for readers.

I’ve been reminded about the roles individuals and institutions play in society because of the potential disciplinary action that Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia (UKM) is about to mete out on four undergraduates. The students’ offence? They allegedly campaigned in the Hulu Selangor by-election.

Here then is a question I’d like to ask our government and UKM. I’d also like the same question asked of any other university that thinks it is right that UKM is doing what it is doing as provided for under the Universities and University Colleges Act (UUCA). What role are universities meant to play? And by extension, what roles do our government and local university administrations expect university students and the university itself to play?

Centres of learning

I doubt that anyone would disagree that a university is a centre of learning. Historically, universities, which began in Europe, were communities of teachers and scholars. In a nutshell, the role of a university is to promote learning. And learning best occurs when thinking, querying and the testing of ideas takes place.

As pedantic as that sounds, I believe Malaysians need to revisit the question of what role universities are meant to play in light of the UKM issue. After all, UKM is not the first nor will it be the last Malaysian university which will invoke the UUCA in reining in students from the brink of thinking and participating in public and political life.

Aren’t religions equal in Malaysia?
The People Speak! | Flickr)
Indeed, when I was an undergraduate in Universiti Malaya 20 years ago, we experienced the same oppressive controls over thinking made possible by restrictive and ill-formed laws such as the UUCA. I remember how as orientation week helpers, a group of Christian seniors approached the student affairs department in 1991. We wanted to request for Christian freshies to have time off to attend church during the week-long orientation. After all, Muslim undergraduates were allowed time to pray five times a day. The department head’s response? “Who put you up to this? It must be external agents instigating you.”

I can’t remember if we were more flabbergasted or insulted. To be certain, that wasn’t the only instance that students in my graduating year experienced pressure from the university authorities to conform, follow the rules, and not question. In another instance, a faculty mate faced tremendous challenges when trying to get approval for a human rights exhibition on campus.

And so, nothing much has changed in the past 20 years. At least not in terms of the authorities’ ideas about how a university should be run and how they will, or rather will not, cultivate critical centres of learning.

What was the crime?

The main entrance into UKM’s campus (source: Wiki Commons)

After all, how was it a crime or even offensive that the four final-year political science students from UKM were interested enough to go to the ground to understand the country’s politics and political process? How is it offensive for undergraduates, no matter their faith, to legitimately ask for time to pray during a university-organised week-long orientation programme? How is it wrong for students to be aware of violations and to want to raise consciousness about human rights among the student body?

It can only be offensive and criminal if university administrators don’t believe that university students should be thinking, enquiring and acting in tandem with their conscience as citizens.

To be certain, it’s not just university administrators such as UKM’s vice-chancellor Prof Tan Sri Dr Sharifah Hapsah Syed Hasan Shahabudin whose positions need to be interrogated. Ultimately, the people most responsible for this state of affairs in universities are those in government who refuse to review and dismantle the UUCA. To have a sense of how anti-democratic and anti-thinking the UUCA is, consider this: If found guilty, the four students can either be expelled or suspended for exercising their democratic right to associate and express.

Who’s speaking up?

It is for that reason that both Pakatan Rakyat and MCA leaders have called on UKM to desist from taking any action. These parties, including Gerakan, have also called on the government to either review or completely dismantle the UUCA because they understand how detrimental the law is in encouraging young citizens to think and exercise their rights in a democracy.

Mohamed Khaled Nordin
Conversely, it was the Higher Education Minister Datuk Seri Mohamed Khaled Nordin, from Umno, who warned university students that the UUCA would be used against them if they were in Hulu Selangor during the by-election campaign.

What I find really curious is this. How does the Umno-led Barisan Nasional (BN) government expect the nation to embark on creativity and innovation if university students are not allowed to think, engage and explore beyond their classrooms? How does the government expect the nation to achieve Vision 2020‘s goal of being a fully developed country in 10 years if university students are not allowed to mature in their thinking and perspectives? How can we even imagine that Malaysia will experience a brain gain, instead of the current brain drain, if universities cannot and will not create spaces for learning, independent thought and enquiry?

Brain drain (© Nick Choo) 

I think it’s timely to ask our Umno-led government what role they think universities are meant to play in the nation’s interest if not to cultivate thinking, learning, experimentation and questioning.

From the evidence, it is clear that the UUCA prevents universities in Malaysia from playing that role. Indeed, the UUCA was clearly formulated in the early 1970s by the same BN government as a way to curb student organisations that were vocal in holding government and power accountable.

How then can the UUCA be in the nation’s interest? And how can any government, politician, political party or university administrator, who supports the UUCA and its use, be acting in the nation’s interest? Indeed, it is obvious just who is sabotaging Malaysia’s potential and abilities to become a developed, mature and competitive nation. favicon

Jacqueline Ann Surin has studied in both local and foreign universities. She would not enrol in a local university again even if she was paid to do so.

See also: 
UKM is “penalising” students

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9 Responses to “Whose interest does the UUCA serve?”

  1. U-Jean says:

    “Bagi seseorang mahasiswa, apa yang lebih mustahak untuk diperjuangkan adalah berkelulusan dengan ijazah cemerlang dan penglibatan diri dalam aktiviti yang menyihatkan di mana aktiviti sebegini dapat bantu mengharumkan nama negara mahupun keluarga. Penglibatan dalam politik sebagaimana yang telah ditegah oleh undang- undang hanya akan mendatangkan impak- impak negatif antaranya risiko digantung dan dibuang universiti.

    Di samping itu, mahasiswa harus tidak melupakan hasrat kedua- dua orang tua kita yang berada di kampung mennungu kepulangan kita dengan segulung ijazah.

    Percayalah wahai rakan- rakan sepejuangan, tiada ibu bapa yang sanggup berhadapan dengan panggilan daripada pihak universiti yg memaklumkan pemberhentian anaknya daripda universiti???”

    Quoted from the JR Tey, President of the Asian Law Students Association.

  2. U-Jean says:

    “Pertamanya, penglibatan pelajar secara aktif dalam politik akan mewujudkan polarisasi kaum, ideologi dan agama dalam kalangan pelajar. Lebih membimbangkan apabila universiti yang sepatutnya aman dan tenang dan sesuai untuk belajar, menjadi tidak kondusif akibat daripada pergerakkan politik yang kadangkala, bahkan sepanjang masa mempunyai percangahan ideologi, visi, dan misi perjuangan.

    Keduanya ianya mengelakkan pelajar terpengaruh dengan mana-mana parti politik yang boleh mempengaruhi keutamaan pelajar untuk menuntut ilmu. Apakah perasaan ibu bapa yang berniat melihat kejayaan anaknya dalam pelajaran, tiba-tiba ditangkap dan dihukum buang daripada universiti? Saya pasti, menitik air mata ibu, berkecai harapan dan impian bapa, apabila anak mereka didakwa dan dihukum sedemikian. Matlamat, harapan, dan impian ibu bapa juga perlu diberi perhatian, kerana syurga itu dibawah telapak kaki ibu.”

    Quoted from Mohd Hamzah, President of UKM’s Student’s Representative Council.

  3. Sam says:

    I sent my two children overseas because I don’t want them to grow with stunted minds from our pariah universities here.

    May I ask why even students continue to support Umno, MCA and MIC when these are the very parties that approved the UUCA?

    Little wonder our graduates are unemployable.

  4. Subashini says:

    See, *these* are precisely the issues that PR should be jumping on. Imagine how they could reach out to the thousands of local Malaysians who have *no choice* but to attend a local university, which even the writer (with past experience serving as a bitter reminder) will not be willing to attend if paid? I don’t think our youth enjoy being shepherded about like lost, dumb lambs. It’s just that they’re probably tired, apathetic, and see no end in sight – and hence feel like there’s no fight left to fight.

  5. Muslim voter says:

    The UUCA is Umno’s rules. I told my children studying in universities to campaign among themselves to vote for PR in the next GE.

  6. Merah Silu says:


    Saya juga menghantar empat orang anak saya keluar negara dengan perbelanjaan sendiri, tetapi selepas mereka menamatkan pengajian undergraduate di universiti negara ini (yang saudara label kan sebagai pariah). Saya ingin pastikan yang mereka ini benar-benar menjiwai budaya negara, dan nilai-nilai jati diri sentiasa tertanam dijiwa mereka. Syukur kepada Allah yang mereka sangat berjaya dan dua dengan kelulusan Master sedang bekerja dengan syarikat antarabangsa ternama sementara yang muda sekali sedang membuat Master dan yang tua sedang menyiapkan thesis PhD disebuah universiti ternama. Saya mengingatkan mereka supaya pulang selepas 3 – 5tahun bekerja diluar negara, dan berkhidmat untuk kepentingan negara ini.

    Anak-anak juga mengikut jejak langkah ayah mereka yang membuat PhD lebih 25 tahun yang lalu. Saya juga berkhidmat dengan beberapa organisasi antarabangsa, atas personal capacity, sebelum balik ke tanahair, dan berkongsi pengalaman di universiti tanahair yang saudara sebutkan sebagai pariah.

    Mungkin kita berbeza pandangan tentang negara ini kerana latar belakang yang amat ketara. Malaysia adalah negara saya, bapa saya, dan datuk-datuk saya sejak zaman berzaman. Walau apapun terjadi negara ini perlu dipertahankan, walau pun dengan darah seperti yang dilakukan oleh datuk-datuk saya yang terdahulu. Saudara pula dari kaum pendatang yang sentiasa mencari peluang ekonomi untuk terus hidup dimana saja. Oleh itu amat mudah untuk saudara membuat keputusan berpindah, sekiranya perlu; dan juga menghina institusi negara ini dimana yang sesuai; kerana saudara yang dari kalangan pendatang dan bukanlah penduduk asal negara ini, tidak dapat menghayati tentang kecintaan kita terhadap negara ini.


    Kedua-dua anak saya akan membuat PhD di negara ini dalam 1 – 2 tahun akan datang dan saya telah pun mendapat persetujuan dari rakan universiti yang terlibat. Kami sedang mengumpulkan sedikit dana untuk disumbangkan kepada universiti bagi menampung projek yang akan dilaksanakan oleh anak-anak saya nanti. Kami senantiasa menganggap yang kami mempunyai peranan bagi meningkatkan prestasi universiti-universiti dinegara ini, disamping memenafaatkan hasil penyelidikan kami untuk pembangunan ekonomi dinegara ini.

    Untuk makluman saudari, saya juga belajar di negara ini dalam bidang sains pada tahun 1975 dikala AUKU diperkenalkan. Kami semua bersyukur yang universiti kembali tenang dan dapat berperanan semula dengan berkesan. Saya percaya setiap perundangan perlu dikaji dari masa kesemasa, begitu juga dengan AUKU. Tetapi tidaklah sampai menghina Akta tersebut sedemikian rupa. Dalam hal ini saya berpendapat yang universiti perlu diberi kebebasan untuk melaksanakan tugas yang telah ditetapkan kepada mereka.

    Mungkin kita juga tidak sama disebabkan oleh latar belakang budaya yang berbeza. Sebagai orang Melayu [Malaysia] dan penduduk asal negara ini, saya sentiasa memandang kemajuan dan kebaikan yang dihasilkan. Saudari pula mungkin sentiasa komplain, mencari kelemahan, dan memperbesarkan kelemahan yang tidak perlu dibesarkan. Saya juga amat teruja untuk melihat bagaimana agaknya artikel saudari sekiranya saudari dapat menulis dalam bahasa rasmi negara ini. Itu pun kalau saudari tidak menganggap yang bahasa resmi ini juga adalah bahasa pariah.

  7. Ellese A says:

    There is clearly a logical flaw in the writer’s argument. I cannot see how her ‘Christian’ experience in her university and the creativity and dynamism of local universities are related to restrictions under AUKU.

    I was also educated locally here and overseas. Almost all of my university mates were never restricted by AUKU. Our society’s activities were never restricted by AUKU. We organized local and international seminars. I personally started a team which is now well respected internationally. We have even bested the likes of Cambridge, Monash, Harvard, NUS etc. And all due to pure effort and motivation of the students. We don’t have renowned professors like other top universities to drive the whole team but yet we were successful internationally. AUKU has never ever restricted us.

    Contrary to your assertion, I don’t think abolishing the AUKU will improve our university standards and reputation. Any improvement in our universities requires the development of many things, the least of which is abolishing of the AUKU. As my team mates have shown, our universities can succeed if we just put our minds on what we can do rather than blaming other unrelated things.

  8. migrate says:

    @ Jac

    Better migrate.. don’t have to waste your effort and time in this country.

  9. Miz Thang says:

    Just disputing your line that “universities started in Europe”. I was told that they had universities in the middle east and in China back when the Europeans were still killing each other over religion (oh, you mean they still do that? The Crusades) and living in castles.

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