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28-12-2011 11:18

Liberalisation of campuses


Instead of using the sledgehammer of the law, universities could use the law of contract and the techniques of private law to keep politics in campus under reasonable control.

THE Prime Minister has instructed that the Universities and University Colleges Act (UUCA) be amended to achieve two aims: First, to permit adult students to join political parties. Second, to ensure that campuses still remain free of partisan politics.

Permitting political affiliation poses no legal problems. However, there is one contentious issue: Are students going to qualify for political affiliation at 18 (the age of majority) or at 21 (the age of the right to vote)?

The second aim – keeping campuses free of politics – is more complicated and the journey will cover many slippery slopes.

The Higher Education Minister has constituted a committee and has directed it to consult all affected parties. Such consultation will lend democratic legitimacy to the process.

However, one must note that consultation does not impose a duty to obey the wishes of those consulted. Many conflicting opinions are bound to surface during the consultation and the committee in framing its recommendations will have to try to reconcile the irreconcilable.

Political affiliation: To permit students to join political parties, the following provisions of UUCA (and their equivalents in the Private Higher Educational Institutions Act 1996 and the Educational Institutions (Discipline) Act 1976 need to be repealed or amended;

– Subsections 15(1)(a) and 15(2)(a) that prohibit students and student groups from associating with political parties,

– Subsection 15(1)(c) and 15(2)(c) that prohibit students and student groups from associating with any organisation declared by the minister to be unsuitable for student affiliation. The minister’s power, though never exercised, is very broad and could conceivably be used to name political parties,

– Subsection 15(3) that deals with the vice-chancellors’ duty to communicate the minister’s list of unsuitable organisations to students, and

– Subsection 15(5)(a) that bans students and student groups from expressing sympathy or support for, or doing anything which may reasonably be construed as expressing sympathy or support for any political party.

In the recent case of Muhammad Hilman Idham, this subsection was declared invalid by the Court of Appeal on constitutional grounds. Students now have a right to attend political ceramahs or to distribute leaflets etc.

Section 15(5)(c) bans students and student groups from expressing sympathy or support for or doing anything which may reasonably be construed as expressing sympathy or support for any organisation deemed unsuitable by the minister.

Section 15(6)(b) permits free speech at seminars, symposiums etc, provided these occasions are not organised by political parties and “unsuitable organisations”. This ban is constitutionally questionable if the seminar is outside the campus.

Keeping campuses politically free: To permit students to immerse in politics outside the university but to insist on political neutrality on campus poses many difficult constitutional challenges.

With legal literacy rising, the Federal Constitution is moving from the peripheries to the centre. Many students are now aware of their constitutional rights.

The Federal Constitution in Article 10(1) grants to all citizens freedom of speech, assembly and association. Article 10(2) permits Parliament to impose restrictions on the above rights on a number of specified grounds.

For example, free speech is subject to eight limits; security of the Federation, friendly relations with other countries, public order, morality, privileges of Parliament, privileges of state assemblies, contempt of court, defamation or incitement to an offence.

As Parliament is not supreme, any legislative restriction must fall squarely within the eight permissible grounds. Many provisions of UUCA appear unconstitutional because of blank-cheque restrictions not confined to the eight permissible limits.

There are likely to be constitutional posers if UUCA permits punishment on a student for wearing a T-shirt, cap or emblem of a political party or possessing or distributing pamphlets or membership forms of a party.

It is likely to be argued by proponents of student freedoms that these activities present no “clear and present danger” to public order, national security etc. The recent Court of Appeal decision in the Hilman case affirmed this view.

The recently passed Peaceful Assembly Bill and the impending repeal of section 27(5) of the Police Act also expand student horizons.

Under the new statute, assemblies at public and private places are permitted without a police permit. Students are likely to make use of this law for assemblies outside their campuses.

The dilemma for the draftsmen is therefore this: Any amendments to UUCA must recognise the new demand for compliance with the hitherto forgotten supreme Constitution. At the same time the view of parents, senior civil servants and many academicians must be considered that the torch of learning should not be allowed to be extinguished by the firestorm and fury of political passions.

Suggestions: It is humbly proposed that we need to reorient our thinking in the following ways:

UUCA must be constitutionalised. Only such restrictions on political activism must be imposed as are consonant with our basic charter.

For example Article 10(3) permits restrictions on the right to form associations by a law relating to education. This means that while permitting students to have political affiliations, section 49 of the First Schedule of UUCA could be amended to provide that students are forbidden from setting up branches of political parties on campus.

Instead of using the sledgehammer of the law (and facing constitutional challenges), universities could use the law of contract and the techniques of private law to keep politics in campus under reasonable control.

The letter of offer to students could impose a dress code forbidding the wearing of any political emblem.

Students could be required to observe a reserve in politics on campus; to refrain from acting as an election agent or polling agent, or standing for Dewan Rakyat or state assembly elections and holding any post in any political party without prior permission from the VC.

This will have the added advantage of bringing staff and student law relating to political involvement on par with each other.

Many sectors of society, including 1.2 million public servants face similar political restrictions.

Politically disruptive activities could be the subject of disciplinary proceedings.

Universities could make adroit use of the law of private property to regulate seminars on campus and to vet the list of invitees. There is some scope for judicial review if this power is abused.

Nevertheless, there is considerable scope for internal regulation as university property is private property.

As a matter of general principle, we should distinguish between what the students do on campus and what they do outside. Their outside activities should not be curbed by UUCA but by the ordinary law of the land.

In addition to above changes, there should be sincere efforts to empower students and to recognise their rights and dignity. A precedent already exists.

The 2009 Constitution of USM protects students under a whistleblowers clause. A Student Parliament has been set up. There is a Board Committee on Student Welfare with two democratically elected representatives of students as members.

A student representative may sit on the Student Disciplinary Board. Student welfare has been separated from student discipline.

A thorough programme of re-education for student affairs officers will do much to reduce student grievances and to end the adversarial atmosphere on many campuses.

Students in turn will, of course, have to remember that rights and responsibilities go hand in hand. Abuse of freedom is as bad as abuse of power.

> Shad Saleem Faruqi is Emeritus Professor of Law at UiTM and Visiting Professor at USM

23-02-2011 12:25

UPM exclusive

SERDANG: Deputy Higher Education Minister Datuk Saifuddin Abdullah has urged for democracy to prevail at campuses, following the standoff between pro-Mahasiswa students and varsity administrators at Universiti Putra Malaysia (UPM).

Emphasising that he sided neither the anti-establishment pro-Mahasiswa front or pro-establishment factions, Saifuddin said that he wanted a mature democracy on campuses.

"Just recognise the campus election result as the students have spoken," he told The Star.

"Disqualifying the winning candidates for highly questionable reasons is the last thing to do.

"We should not repeat the injustices done to Aung San Suu Kyi and Hamas whose wins at the polls were not recognised."

The pro-Mahasiswa students were protesting after 10 of their 11 winning candidates were disqualified for campaigning as a group.

The candidates were later reinstated but the protests continued as coordinators insisted that UPM deputy vice-chancellor Prof Dr Fauzi Ramlan had to issue a face-to-face apology.

Saifuddin said although groupings were forbidden under the campus election guidelines, UPM's pro-Mahasiswa front not the only guilty party.

"There happen to be two groups in this case, the pro-establishment pro-Aspirasi and the anti-establishment pro-Mahasiswa," said.

"If the students want to have groupings, let them be.

"In this case, the pro-Aspirasi camp complained that the pro-Mahasiswa students campaigned as a group.

"Were the pro-Mahasiswa candidates given a fair hearing? It is an injustice if they were not given one."

Saifuddin also praised UPM vice-chancellor Prof Datuk Dr Radin Umar Radin Sohadi for meeting the students twice to appease the situation.

"Prof Radin Umar is a fair man and he did the right thing by upholding democratic principles," he said.

05-01-2011 01:07

Saifuddin: It's not new as varsities have been told

PETALING JAYA: The start of the new academic term for public universities in September should not cause any confusion as these institutions of higher learning had been notified about the change, said Deputy Higher Education Minister Datuk Saifuddin Abdullah.

His recent statement that universities would start their new term in September this year instead of July was not “ground-breaking”, he said.

“They should know about this new calendar. The universities have been informed,” he said when questioned why some university students had not been informed of the change.

“It was not a new announcement as the minister (Datuk Seri Mohamed Khaled Nordin) had mentioned this several times in the past.

“I was just confirming things to reporters who sought clarification,” he said yesterday.

Asked about claims that students in medical faculties would start their semester in July instead of Sep tember, Saifuddin said the implementation of the new calendar should be across the board.

Speaking in Temerloh on Saturday, Saifuddin had said the move was to align the Malaysian academic term with that of universities abroad and also to circumvent the institutions of higher learning in the country from losing outstanding Sijil Pela jaran Malaysia candidates to foreign universities.

He had reportedly said bright SPM students hardly had time to pick the best local colleges and ultimately chose to study overseas.

When contacted, Mohamed Khaled, who was overseas, confirmed the new academic calendar.

It was learnt that although various vice-chancellors were not privy to the announcement, such a move had been on the cards for a while.

Khaled first spoke on the matter in December 2009 during a soft launch of the ministry’s nationwide carnival.

He had said then that Malaysia’s customary July intake hampered international student recruitment as many foreign students had yet to receive their high school exam results.

He said the July intake also complicated student mobility programmes.

Khaled had also said then that it was hoped the new academic calendar – which mirrors countries in the northern hemisphere – would further enhance Malaysia’s status as a regional education hub.

The Education and Higher Edu cation Ministries had agreed in principle on the switch and a joint committee discussed the final de tails last year, said former Higher Education secretary-general Tan Sri Dr Zulkefli A. Hassan, a committee member.

According to the Institute of International Education, Malaysia is the 11th most preferred study destination in the world, with around 2% of the global international student market.

14-11-2010 05:25

Tight grip on campus politics

The Universities and University Colleges Act was amended last year but debate goes on as to whether students should be allowed to join political parties.

THERE was quite a bit of buzz when four political science students from Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia (UKM) were recently charged under the Universities and University Colleges Act (AUKU) for their alleged involvement in the Hulu Selangor by-election. Another four can expect to face similar charges for participating in the Galas by-election.

In the case of two UKM students who were found to have taken part in the Umno assembly, the university has issued them a warning letter, asking them to explain themselves.

While the opposition has been calling for amendments to AUKU for decades, recently there has been a growing number of calls within Barisan Nasional itself, including from Umno and MCA Youth, asking for the act to be amended to allow university students the right to join politics.

Umno Youth chief Khairy Jamaluddin says youngsters view AUKU as something outdated which curtails their freedom.

But Higher Education Minister Datuk Seri Khaled Nordin is adamant that AUKU, in its present form, should remain.

“The purpose of going to university is to acquire knowledge. I am the Higher Education Minister. What assurances can I give parents and families if there is chaos in campus when students and lecturers get involved in politics and campaigns and the campus is turned into a political stage?

“We need to keep politics out of campus so that students will have peace of mind and can study,” he says.

Khaled adds that AUKU, following substantial amendments in 2009, already gives students a lot of freedom.

“They are free to talk about politics, take an interest in political happenings, invite politicians into the universities for academic purposes, go down to by-elections to observe what is happening on the ground. They just can’t join political parties.”

Interestingly, his own deputy in the ministry – Datuk Saifuddin Abdullah – has a totally different view.

Saifuddin believes that university students should be allowed to join political parties as well as campaign for the party or candidate of his or her choice.

“Not allowing them to become members of a political party contradicts the fact that they are allowed to vote. Voting means to support a political party or candidate and that’s allowed. These are contradictions which my conscience says is not right,” says Saifuddin, a Universiti Malaya (UM) student leader in the early 1980s.

He doubts that allowing students to join politics will lead to chaos in campus.

“At the end of the day, how many students are really political? It’s a small minority and I don’t think they are that irresponsible,” he argues.

And as an Umno supreme council member, Saifuddin finds it hard to reconcile to the fact that Malaysian students abroad are allowed to form Kelab Umno or Kelab PAS and be politically aligned while local university students are not. For him, this is undoubtedly double standards.

“Kelab Umno is a good example. Are the students causing trouble or playing truant because they are with Kelab Umno? No. They attend classes, get the grades and when they come back, they become professionals or start businesses etc.

“It is my belief that if we allow that same freedom to our students at local universities, they will know how to divide their time. During elections, they will bising bising (be vocal),then they will come back and study. They are not going to do harm to themselves (academically),” he stresses.

Well informed

Saifuddin points out that today’s youths are a lot more informed on issues because of the Internet. And for him, the way forward is to allow the idealists – “the voice of the conscience” – to speak up.

“University is not about buildings. It is about the intensity of debate that happens on campus between lecturers and lecturers, lecturers and students and among students themselves. It is about thesis, anti-thesis to get the synthesis.

“You have to allow those things to happen so that people learn to appreciate different views, agree to disagree and also to have a balance between what is idealistic and practical.

“The moment you stop certain debates, it becomes a problem. The theologians will come in – then you are in for a disaster,” says Saifuddin who feels so strongly about the need to amend AUKU that he submitted a paper on it to the Umno supreme council in August.

Umno vice-president Datuk Seri Dr Ahmad Zahid Hamidi was in university at the height of the student movement in the country. That was in 1974, when students championing poverty-stricken farmers, protested in Tasek Utara and Baling. Other student leaders then included Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim, Datuk Ibrahim Ali and Hishammuddin Rais.

“We were anti-establishment, yes but we were non-partisan. We talked about issues and were social critics giving constructive comments and suggestions to the Government.”

“I went to PAS, PRM, Umno, MCA, MIC platforms to get an academic analysis about the political situation in Malaysia. We were very open and got exposed to all sides.

“That must be allowed. Students must be involved in getting and internalising the feeling as observers of political activities in the country. At that age, they have to be exposed to everything. There is no right or wrong. They have to get exposure, chew the information and decide what is best for them after they graduate,” he says.

As for the Hulu Selangor by-election, the case of the four UKM students charged under AUKU is still on-going. Khaled explains that when the students were stopped, they had a lot of party campaign flyers and pamphlets with them.

“If it is one or two, that wouldn’t be a problem. That would be for academic purposes. But with so many, that goes against AUKU,” he says.

On the students caught in the Galas by-election, he says they were distributing party flyers. As they were not registered as election party workers, they had no permission to distribute the flyers.

“This contravenes the Election Act and the Police Act,” he says.

For Saifuddin, all this is “most unfortunate”.

“I wish the law (AUKU) would be amended so that they wouldn’t be charged. Personally, I don’t agree with it but the law is there and I can’t be a deputy minister who is law breaking. These are the contradictions I have to live with,” he says.

Youth and Sports Minister Datuk Seri Ahmad Shabery Cheek has been fighting for amendments to AUKU since his student days in the early 1980s. He finds the 2009 amendments quite substantial, describing it as “a major step towards liberalisation” and a “continuation of what they had fought for”.

He points out that students are free nowadays to get involved and even hold posts in the NGOs.

“NGOs like Aliran, Suaram, Sahabat Alam Malaysia are critical as they are all run by the academia. And they are not even government-friendly. But ask around how many students are involved in them. Hardly any!”

Changing culture

He notes that the culture among students has changed and that their pursuit of the paper chase is very strong and the issue of leadership is different from the past.

He says joining an NGO or youth organisation would require more or less the same skills as politics where one would need to think creatively on how to organise people, meetings, how to read minutes and so on.

“That is easier. If they won’t even take that up, how are they going to do something more complex (like politics)?” he asks.

“But that is not the point, says Batu MP Tian Chua.

The issue of rights, he says, is not a question of takers.

“It is about giving students their rights and it is up to them if they want to exercise it or not.”

Tian Chua points out there are problems NGOs face if they take in university students as this might restrict them further.

“Does this mean because students join the NGO, the NGO is not allowed to express its political stance or support a party in a by-election? ” he asks.

For him, the 2009 amendments just did not go far enough.

Disagreeing with Khaled that students can speak up on political issues, he says the university’s student affairs department (HEP) is all too powerful and wields the big stick.

“They get to decide if action should be taken, if a student can continue, whether he can be expelled. They can even set trials to execute certain punishments. They have an arbitrary way of administrating young people,” he cautions.

He stresses that students at local universities cannot form any organisation by themselves and need to register with the universities for these to be approved.

“In Australia, I can form a group for ‘Human Rights for Burundi’, register and get 20 students interested, start writing letters and tomorrow I can organise ‘Students against Rape’.

“Try it in Malaysian universities – you can’t! There is no flexibility. They allow things like Persatuan Pancing Ikan (Fishing Society) or Photography Society but you can’t react to the social needs.

“The university will say a quick response to the tsunami in Indonesia is okay but a quick response to a massacre in Maluku is not okay. So who decides which one is more urgent, which is political and which is not? So since the students are constrained, they don’t even bother to think about it.

“That is a very different type of young people they are cultivating,” he says.

While Shabery has nothing against allowing students to join politics, he points out that this is not a short-cut to academic excellence.

He cites as examples, Singapore and China where the students’ freedom is even more restricted than Malaysia but universities there (like NUS and Beijing University) are noted for their academic excellence.

Nevertheless, Shabery thinks universities should relax their grip on students.

“At university, there are some who are critical of the Govern­ment but when they go out, they change. When you control the students too much, they seem to be very supportive of the Govern­ment but when they graduate, they all become opposition. That is more dangerous.”

14-11-2010 05:24

Let university students enter politics, says Nazri

KUALA LUMPUR: University students should be allowed to join political parties or campaign once they are out of campus, Minister in the Prime Minister's Department Datuk Seri Nazri Aziz said.

He said the laws should be amended to allow them to do so.

"If they are of voting age, why can't they go out to campaign and support the party of their choice? That is ridiculous," he said in an interview.

He was commenting on the involvement of university students in politics and the four UKM students charged under the Uni­versities and University Colleges Act for allegedly taking part in the Hulu Selangor by-election and the imminent action against students who purportedly campaigned in the recent Galas by-election.

Nazri said that although the students might have contravened the Act, it was wrong to take action against them as they were 21-years-old and the incident occur­red outside campus.

"What are you going to do with them if they passed their exams? Hold back their scrolls?," he asked.

Nazri said students should be allowed some freedom to develop their minds and universities should treat it as a development process rather than an offence.

He believed it was normal for youths to have a rebellious streak and be critical of the Government.

"From the Government's point of view, there is nothing to fear. Look at people like (Datuk Seri) Ahmad Shabery (Cheek).

"He was a student leader and very critical of the Government but he is a responsible minister now. When I was a student in Britain, I too was very critical of the Government."

According to Nazri, students did not rise up just because they were rebellious.

"There is always a reason for it and we must look at their action positively rather than label them as ‘anti-establishment' and punish them. That will stifle their thinking," he said.

But within the campus, he said, politics should be a strict no-no.

He said taxpayers' money was spent to subsidise education for the students at local universities and that money should be well spent.

"As a student, your main responsibility is to yourself first.

"If you don't study (because you are busy fighting for the people) and fail, that means you have wasted the money of the rakyat," he said.

29-10-2010 15:05

MP: Campaigns should be mature and diplomatic

GUA MUSANG: Political parties should consider veteran Umno leader Tengku Razaleigh Hamzah’s call for a more mature and diplomatic style of political campaigning – devoid of personal attacks – during elections.

Deputy Higher Education Minister Datuk Saifuddin Abdullah said elections should be about substance.

“Tengku Razaleigh’s call for a ban on personal attacks should be considered by all.

“There is also a need to change how politicians campaign to reflect the modern age,” said Saifuddin the Temerloh MP.

Earlier, Tengku Razaleigh said that the Galas state by-election must be conducted in a friendly manner with no personal attacks. The Kelantan prince, who is also Barisan Nasional’s by-election director said there was no need to assemble a huge group of supporters to march during nomination day.

He wanted a personalised campaign where candidates met voters as whoever won the by-election, it would not change the political equation in Kelantan.

Saifuddin agreed there was no need for a show of power during nominations.

“Hollering insults and throwing tantrums should also be discouraged,” Saifuddin said, adding that democracy could still be practised through a substance-filled campaign.

He said Barisan was zeroing in on the needs of the voters rather than on polemics which might arouse emotions but did not benefit the electorate.

Saifuddin, the former Malaysian Youth Council president, hoped youths would be responsive to the new style of campaigning

“A statesman-like campaign saves costs as there is no need to adorn an entire constituency with flags, banners or posters,” he said.

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