Speech by Parliamentary Opposition Leader, DAP Secretary-General and MP for Kota Melaka, Lim Kit Siang, in the Dewan Rakyat on Wednesday, December 8, 1982 on the 1982 Universities and University Colleges Amendment Bill
DAP propose the exclusion of private universities like the proposed Merdeka University from the operations of the Universities and University Colleges Act to help supplement the government’s university education programme
The government has introduced the 1982 Universities and University Colleges Amendment Bill to pave the way for the establishment of the Islamic University by providing for the exclusion from the operation of the Universities and University Colleges Act 1971 any higher educational institution with the status of a university established under any treaty, agreement or convention between Malaysia and any other country or any international organisation.
I understand that the Islamic University, to be sited at Fraser’s Hill, is to use English and Arabic as media of instruction, while Bahasa Malaysia would be used as language of administration.
This amendment to take the Islamic University outside the ambit of the Universities and University Colleges Act 1971 is necessary as the High Court and the majority judgment of the Federal Court in the Merdeka University case held that a university established under the UUCA is a ‘public authority’, and that under Article 152(a)(a) of the Malaysian Constitution, “A person may be prohibited or prevented from using any other language for official purposes” and that ‘official purpose’ means ‘any purpose of the government, whether federal or state, and include any purpose of a public authority’.
By excluding the Islamic University from the operation of the UUCA, the Islamic University when established would not be a ‘public authority’, and its use of English and Arabic as media of instruction would not be using them for official purposes.
We in the DAP do not oppose the establishment of the Islamic University, but we feel strongly that the time has come for a deeper review of the UUCA to ensure that it does not restrict or limit the expansion of higher education opportunities in the country to meet the great demand for local university places by our students.
The UUCA must be amended not only to exclude universities established under any treaty, agreement or convention between Malaysia and any other country or any other international organisation from the operation of the UUCA, but also to exclude fully-funded private universities from UUCA.
In the Merdeka University case, the High Court and the majority judgement of the Federal Court held that if established, the Merdeka University would be a ‘public authority’ by virtue of being incorporated under the UUCA, and the use of Chinese as one of the media of instruction in the proposed Merdeka University would be using Chinese for official purpose.
The solution is very simple, and that is by taking the proposed Merdeka University outside the ambit and purview of the Universities and University Colleges Act 1971 completely.
As the government has itself set a precedent in showing that there can be universities in the country which are excluded from the ambit of the UUCA 1971 in its proposal that the Islamic University be exempted from the UUCA, the proposed Merdeka University and other private universities fully funded by the private sector should also be excluded from the UUCA.
It is for this reason that I have given notice that I would be moving an amendment to the UUCA Bill during Committee Stage that private universities fully-funded by the private sector are excluded from the ambit of the UUCA.
I hope that his proposal will get the support of all MPs, regardless of party, who support the concept of Merdeka University and the principle of private universities in the country. I hope in particular that Gerakan Ministers, Deputy Ministers and MPs, especially the MP for Tanjong, Dr. Koh Tsu Koon, as during the April general elections, the Gerakan had declared that they accepted the Tung/Chiau Chung policy on Chinese Education as part of the political programme of Gerakan, which includes the establishment of Merdeka University.
Gerakan Ministers and MPs had been talking a lot about ‘three in one’ to fight for the legitimate aspirations of the Malaysian Chinese that Chinese education should have a complete educational system, from primary to secondary and university level. Let the Gerakan Ministers and MPs, in particular the MP for Tanjong, Dr. Koh Tsu Koon, show now by deed whether he is prepared to stand up in Parliament and show his ‘three in one’ spirit and commitment for the Merdeka University idea and proposal.
My amendment, however, is not restricted merely to the Merdeka University proposal. It is to allow for the free establishment of private universities, including the proposed Merdeka University.
As a result of the restrictive policy of the government on fair and equal opportunities for Malaysian students in our universities, there is a crying need for expansion of higher education opportunities for our students.
For the 1982/83 academic session, the five local universities took in only 6,127 students, made up of the following:
Although the government is talking about the possibility of establishing a sixth university, there does not seem to be any seriousness behind it. In fact, as far back as 9th Nov. 1979, when replying to points raised during the budget debate, the then Deputy Education Minister, Datuk Chan Siang Sun, had announced that the Education Ministry was studying the possibility of establishing a sixth university under the Fourth Malaysia Plan. In the present budget meeting, during question time, the impression I get from the Deputy Education Minister, Dr. Tan Tiong Hong, is that the Education Ministry has not yet got down seriously to studying the question of establishing a sixth university. This does not speak well for an administration which has as its motto the slogans of efficiency and competence!
The inequity of the government’s higher education policy has caused great hardships to Malaysian students who had to go overseas to fulfill their higher education aspirations. Many of our students had been made dupes of unscrupulous colleges, without any protection from our Education Ministry.
For instance, only last week, the New Straits Times reported of hundreds of Malaysian students who went to Britain hoping to obtain higher qualifications at private colleges have found that they had been given a shabby deal. The premises of some of these colleges are sub-standard and some are said to offer bogus degrees. Some Malaysian students have left a few of these colleges in frustration and have returned home although it meant losing a great deal of money. Others have opted for educational institutions in Canada and other countries.
There was one incident last October when a group of Malaysian students arrived in London to take a computer course at the Pure and Applied Computer School. Each student had paid $5,200 to $6,400 for the one-year course. The students were told that the school had been in operation for three years – when in fact it had been set up only around the time the students arrived. The school was in financial trouble and many of its teaching staffs were suspended. The school did not re-open.
That Malaysia needs private universities and colleges to meet the great Malaysian demand for higher education opportunities, to help supplement the government’s university programme, and to save Malaysian students from being duped by unscrupulous education racketeers overseas exploiting Malaysian students’ thirst for higher education, needs no argument. Furthermore, the establishment of private universities would also help to save vast sums of foreign exchange being spent each year by the some 50,000 Malaysian students overseas.
If the average annual cost per student is $12,000, this means that every year, the 50,000 Malaysian students abroad are spending some $600 million a year. This year’s total expenditure for the five local universities are only in the region of some $400 million. This means that the $600 million being spent abroad by the 50,000 Malaysian students could support the maintenance of another five local universities with ease, whether government or private.
The 2M Government wants Malaysians to ‘Look Japan’. In Japan, there are some 300 universities, 80 per cent of which are private universities, with a total university population of about two million students. The allowing of establishment of private universities in Malaysia would therefore be following the Japanese university education tradition.
I hope that the Barisan Nasional leaders and MPs could be enlightened enough on the issue of private university education in Malaysia, and to stop treating the issue as a ‘political football’. By giving support to the DAP proposal to allow private universities to be taken out of the ambit of the UUCA so that they could be established without being categorised as ‘public authorities’, the country will be going a long way to create national harmony, unity and cohesion.
I regret that in tabling amendments to the UUCA, the Education Minister has not taken the opportunity to table amendments to effect repeal of the clauses in the act which inhibit freedom of university autonomy and turned universities into government departments.
As the University of Malaya Guild of Graduates said in December last year, the restrictions on student and academic staff activities had seriously eroded the quality of campus life in so far as it could be considered a university.
The amendments to the UUCA 1971 which muzzled campus life were enacted in 1975 after student unrest both in and out of the country over the Baling Incident and other socio-economic issues.
Section 15 of the UUCA prohibits a university student, or organisation body or group of persons from becoming members or be associated with any organisation, society, political party, trade union or group of persons whatsoever except as may be provided for under the University’s Constitution, or except as may be approved in advance in writing by the Vice Chancellor. It is an offence for any student, student organisation, body or group to collect or attempt to collect or promote or attempt to promote any collection of, or make any appeal orally or in writing or otherwise or attempt to make any such appeal, any money or property.
Section 16 gives power to the Vice Chancellor to suspend or dissolve any student body or organisation that he considers detrimental or prejudicial to the interests or well being of the university, students, staff, public order, safety and security.
The 1975 amendments to the UUCA not only provides for the government appointment of the Chancellor, but also the appointment of the Vice Chancellor, and the appointment of the various deans and deputy deans of faculties by the Vice Chancellor instead of being elected by the various faculties concerned before the amendments.
The combined effect of these UUCA provisions is to stultify the autonomy and academic freedom of universities, as not only are the university students inhibited from the natural growth of being thinking, inquiring and critical members of our society, preparing them to be the future leaders of tomorrow, academic staff members are reduced to the status of civil servants whose job is to turn out university graduates as if they are in factories fulfilling a production quota, without regard to the deeper meaning and purpose of higher education.
No wonder Malaysian universities have been losing their ‘best brains’ because the university conditions are stultifying to intellectual inquiry and growth. I call on the Minister of Education to revoke Section 15 and 16 of the UUCA to restore to the university students the fullest freedom of university student activity, and to restore the university autonomy and academic freedom for the university academic staff so that they have freedom to encourage an intellectual awakening and flowering in our campuses, to search for higher truths untrammeled by the political dictates of the government of the day.