Friday, July 14, 2006

UUCA: Optimism Unfounded?

There has been a flurry of discussions on the University and University Colleges Act 1971 (UUCA) recently in all our mainstream newspapers. Even yours truly was asked to give his 2 sens here. News and reports about the impending reforms of UUCA was coming out faster than this writer can blog :).

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.

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."
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.

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...

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.
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.

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.

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.
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.

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. :)


Anonymous said...

In his article, Dr Azmi Sharom, by his own admission 'is not part of the UUCA review process', or words to that effect. This should serve as a caution in taking his words as gospel. He's just airing his opinion (which has been consistently along these lines).

Lim Kit Siang on the other hand, has had the privilege of the briefing to Opposition Party MP's, so we must assume that his remarks are based on whatever it was that he heard during that briefing.

On the balance of things, IMHO, the process that has been taken has been refreshing - we can either choose to be cynical or not. Still, I'll hang on to a glimmer of hope, but just not set expectations too high.

After all... 'sikit sikit - lama lama jadi bukit'... if there's a start/step in the right direction - so much the better.

Eternal Optimist.

clk said...

This Dr Azmi from MU has so far been very sensible in his discussions and straight to the point without fear so far although I'm quite sure if he can speak more, he will. If only we have more such academicians..

BTW, does anyone know where he studied previously?

Anonymous said...

I saw an advertisment for an education conference. It seems Dr Azmi is one of the speakers.

Not cheap though, cost 800 Ringgit. I can't afford that.
I wonder if any of Edu in M'sia readers or Tony himself is going to attend this conference.

Anonymous said...

If I am not mistaken Dr Azmi obtained his basic law degree as well as PhD from Britain

Anonymous said...

I went through the local University system during my days as a student in the early 90s. It left me bewildered how even with UUCA was in force, a particular local political party were still happily gonig into the Universities, spreading the influence and power amongst students. Now, should the influence be towards achieving excellence in academic, working together in groups of all races and so on, that would be ok. However, this party was inciting hatred towards government and promoting their extremist views. So, if liberalisation of the
UUCA means all these parties can go in and do this, then I am totally against such liberalisation.

University is a breeding ground for academic excellence and achievement. Not a place to have extremist opposition views or a place for political parties to spread their influence, especially if they are negative and extremist.

At the same time, UUCA has never in any way stopped me from voicing my views, albeit in the correct and proper manner. I am concerned looking at the students nowadays, screaming their heads off and demonstrating and so on. That is not the Malaysian culture. Why follow the west or indonesia or korea where their students do demonstrations and create havoc? Malaysians should have our own way and style, and not just follow other people/countries blindly.