The Higher Education Minister is being extremely economical with the truth on claiming that students are “not completely barred from politics”
Bernama has reported the Higher Education Minister, Datuk Seri Mohamed Khaled Nordin's comment in Penang that “students of higher learning institutions are not completely barred from politics... He said they could hear ceramah (political talks) or talk about politics but were not allowed to be actively involved in political campaigning.”
Khaled's explanation on the scope of the University and University Colleges Act (UUCA) is economical with the truth at best and at worst, a gross misrepresentation of the Act which was amended in 2009 under his leadership. More importantly, what he has said is certainly not practised by the Malaysian universities in letter or in spirit.
The Amended UUCA 2009 clearly forbids students and academics from making comments and statements deemed to support or sympathize with any political parties, hence they are certainly not allowed to “talk about politics” as claimed by the Minister. The Act's Clause 15(5) clearly states that
“Tiada seorang pun pelajar Universiti dan tiada pertubuhan, badan atau kumpulan pelajar Universiti yang ditubuhkan oleh, di bawah atau mengikut Perlembagaan, boleh menyatakan atau melakukan apa-apa jua yang boleh semunasabahnya ditafsirkan sebagai menyatakan sokongan kepada atau simpati dengan atau bangkangan terhadap— (a) mana-mana parti politik, sama ada di dalam atau di luar Malaysia”In fact, the only time when students and academics are allowed to discuss “politics” is strictly limited to academic seminars or symposiums as defined under Clause 15(6), and even then only if these events are organised by those approved by the Minister.
Despite the above, the Malaysian universities have been practising censorship and restricting the rights of the Malaysian students at a level beyond what is even prescribed in the Amended UUCA 2009, with the tacit approval from the Ministry of Higher Education. The examples are too many:
1. In April this year, 4 students who were studying political science (for goodness' sake!) were “caught” by Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia (UKM) authorities, who clearly had nothing better to do, in Hulu Selangor despite their being there to observe the political process in the by-elections and are charged for “allegedly showing support, sympathy or opposition towards political parties in Malaysia”.
2. In October 2009, 6 Universiti Malaya (UM) students were charged for inviting opposition politicians to be judges in a debate competition, in particular Teresa Kok, MP for Seputeh. This was despite the fact that no political speeches were being made and Barisan Nasional politicians – Wong Nai Chee, former MCA MP for Kota Melaka, was also taking part as a judge.
3. More recently, I've had two invitations to speak, one in Universiti Malaya and another in Multimedia University which was subsequently withdrawn, after being rejected by the University authorities despite the fact that BN politicians were invited at the same time and that I wasn't there conduct political campaigns.
Hence the Higher Education Minister needs to be more truthful with his claims that students are “free” to listen to ceramahs and talk politics when in actual fact, these activities are either forbidden in the Amended UUCA he had initiated or banned altogether by the universities in total abuse or disregard to the Act.
The Minister should stop pretending that what is limited by the UUCA is limited to just joining political parties or “actively campaign” when in reality the Act prevents any mature association or enlightened discussion on politics in Malaysia, unless when it favours the ruling Barisan Nasional.
We call upon the Higher Education Minister to honestly and sincerely work towards greater academic freedom by abolishing, or at the very least completely revamping the University and University Colleges Act to make it relevant for Malaysians today, and ensure that creativity, critical thinking and analytical skills deemed largely missing from our university graduates can be given room to be cultivated.