It all started when our Minister of Higher Education, Datuk Mustapa Mohamed, announced that the Government will be talking to political parties to get feedback for the review of the UUCA. "Among other things, the review is expected to address the students' freedom to join off-campus organisations."
"The only thing that we haven’t done is to have a consultation session with the political parties. We have already had sessions with students, NGOs, vice-chancellors and academics.So we are all slightly hopeful that some of the more "draconian" legislations within the UUCA may be reformed. However, 2 different articles I read over the last 2 days have probably brought me back down to earth.
The general direction is towards some liberalisation. We are looking at some relaxation – as to which particular provisions of the Act, we haven’t decided yet... What I can assure you is that we will further improve the environment on campus."
For those interested in finding out more about UUCA and what all the fuss is about, the compulsory reading will be the interview which the Sun carried yesterday with Associate Professor Dr Azmi Sharom yesterday (and that's only Part I). When asked by Jacqueline Ann Surin on why he sounded "skeptical and cynical" about the exercise, Dr Azmi replied that he was "not hopeful that they're going to do anything of real value to the law".
(Sighs heavily) I think there's a sense that university students must be controlled. I mean, this is a throwback to the 70s, you know. But, frankly, Jacque, I don't know how politicians think anyway...Now, if Dr Azmi Sharom, who was also formerly the deputy dean of the Universiti Malaya Law Faculty, didn't feel the need to be optimistic about the proposed changes, you know, then maybe I was overly hopeful about it.
But, I know that there's a (pauses), you see, I think university students unfortunately are being used almost like a tool. 'Look! University students support the government!' Or 'Look! The university students support the opposition!'
They're used as a bargaining chip between the political parties, and they want to make sure, the government wants to make sure that this bargaining chip is in their pocket, I think. But, like I said, I don't know how their minds work. I wouldn't know.
So, I don't hold too much hope with the review of the UUCA.
Today, however, after reading Sdr Lim Kit Siang's report on the briefing provided by the Deputy Higher Education Minister, it appears that we are back to square one.
I am convinced after the briefing that the Prime Minister, Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi’s call for a “education revolution” to achieve world-class universities in Malaysia will join the lengthening queue of “cakap ta serupa bikin” of the present administration as there are no signs of any political will to amend the UUCA to free lecturers and students from the fetters strangling academic freedom and student idealism.Sigh. So all these active discussions in the media with regards to students being given greater leeway in participating in off-campus activities and be subjected to reduced bureaucracy and regulations in the campus are all but hot air? Maybe.
It will not only be most unfortunate but a calamity to the aspirations of achieving academic excellence and world-class university status if the amendments to the UUCA to be presented to the next meeting of Parliament leaves the repressive and draconian provisions curbing student activism and idealism, inhibiting freedom of speech and expression of university students and lecturers, basically untouched – despite the Ministry of Higher Education initiating a process of consultation. But this appears to be what is in store in the new batch of amendments to the UUCA which are presently in the works.
Let us all continue to put up the case for some forms of liberalisation in the campus (after all, some is better than none) and hopefully the authorities will take them into consideration when amending the proposed legislation before submission for the parliamentary rubber stamp come August. More on UUCA soon. :)