(Speech by Parliamentary Opposition Leader, DAP Secretary – General and Member of Parliament for Petaling, Lim Kit Siang, in the Dewan Rakyat on Tuesday, 10.10.1978 to introduce a private member’s bill to amend the Universities and University Colleges Act 1971 to clearly provide for the establishment of private universities and university colleges)

Standing Order 49 to move a motion to seek leave of the House to introduce a Private Member’s Bill intituled Universities and University Colleges Act (Amendment) 1978 Bill

I rise under Standing Order 49 to move a motion to seek leave of the House to introduce a Private Member’s Bill intituled Universities and University Colleges Act (Amendment) 1978 Bill to clearly provide for the establishment of private universities and university colleges.

Although the University and University Colleges Act 1971 did not specifically prohibit the establishment of private universities, the Act has been interpreted by Government Ministers and National Front leaders as disallowing the establishment of private universities.

For instance, the Education Minister, Datuk Musa Hitam, at the recent UMNO General Assembly where he announced the government’s rejection of the petition to establish the Merdeka University, gave as one of the three reasons, that the Merdeka University would be run by private bodies without government assistance.

Or as the Deputy Education Minister, Datuk Chan Siang Sun, put it in his prepared text in the last meeting of the previous Parliament: “ Juga oleh kerana adalah menjadi dasar Kerajaan pada masa ini tidak membenarkan penubuhan universiti persendirian ‘private university’ maka itu Kerajaan akan terpaksa menolak permohonan penubuhan Merdeka University yang dikemukakan oleh pihak Merdeka Universiti Sendirian Berhad.” Datuk Chan Siang Sun was scheduled to deliver this speech in April in the Dewan Rakyat this year, on my motion calling for parliamentary approval for Merdeka University, but at the last minute, he was saved from having to deliver it through sabotage of the motion.

In April this year, in an exclusive interview with Nanyang Siang Pao, the MCA President, Datuk Lee San Choon, declared that the Universities and University Colleges Act 1971 does not allow the establishment of a private university.

In Malaysia today, the single most divisive issue in our society is the problem of the dimunition of higher education opportunities for our children.

Last year, over 20,000 of our students were turned away from our five local universities although they have the requisitie academic qualifications. Those who are rich can afford to send their children overseas for higher education, but the majority of the poor are condemned to see their children waste away their abilities and potential. And in two years time, this problem will become even more acute, with the switch from MCE to SPM – for by then, the road for our students to go abroad for higher education opportunities will be closed, for they will not be able to get automatic access and entry into Commonwealth universities and colleges because of their poor command of English.

Today, in our society, there is deep – seated and widespread bitterness about the denial of higher education opportunities for our children. In two years’ time, this bitterness will become even more aggravated.

One immediate solution is for the government to establish at least two new universities, one in Peninsular Malaysia, and the other in East Malaysia, most preferably in Sarawak.

This however would not be sufficient, when we take into consideration the tens of thousands of Malaysian students currently abroad. It is in this light that the Government should clearly allow the people themselves, through their own financial contributions, to establish private universities and university colleges to complement and supplement government educational efforts to assure a higher percentage of qualified manpower in the country to take the country into greater progress and distributive justice.

I wish to emphasize that development of a country is brought about by people, and not by money or other material resources. Investment of human capital, whether by the government or by the private sector, is a worthwhile investment which will pay the country great dividends!

I will urge that this problem of expanding higher education opportunities in deeping with the legitimate demands and aspirations of Malaysian parents and their children should be seen from a national perspective, and not from a racial viewpoint. The important criteria should be how more educational opportunities could be made available to Malaysian students, regardless of their racial origin.

Malaysians of all races, especially non – Malays, are conscious of the fact that the Malays are educationally backward, and they support all government assistance and finance to rectify this historic imbalance.

However, I do not think any rational, Malaysian – minded leader would advocate that the non – Malays should be held back, and that large numbers of non – Malay students denied higher education opportunities just to correct this historic imbalance – for this will not only work to the detriment of the non – Malay students, but eventually to the Malaysian nation which embraces both Malays and non – Malays, sharpen racial consciousness and bitterness, and seriously aggravate racial polarisation in the country.

In fact, it is no understatement should I say that the bitterness felt by large sections of the people in Malaysia over denial of higher – educational opportunities for their children is one of the chief causes of racial polarisation in the country today. By this, I want to stress again, that it is not the thought of anyone that the Malays should have less higher education opportunities – but that there must be expansion of higher education opportunities to cater for the demands of more Malaysian students, in particular non – Malays.

This proposal of mine, to amend the UCCA to clearly allow private universities and university colleges to be established, is very fair and sensible. It will go a long way to remove bitterness in our society, reduce racial polarisation, and make a great contribution to national development by training more qualified manpower, and save government funds for other purposes.

The 1978 General Elections is over, and all MPs should put aside party interests – and think and be guided by the interests of our country and our children. In conclusion, I wish to stress that this proposal is made not with view to have any confrontation, but to find a solution to a situation which if allowed to continue, can do no good for our country or for nation building.