Khaled: Students will have freedom

Timely engagement: Khaled (in purple shirt) having a light moment with various stakeholders, including public university management members, after the townhall. – RAJA FAISAL HISHAN/The Star

STUDENTS in the country’s 20 public universities (IPTA) would soon have full autonomy to run their activities, including managing the finances of their student unions or student representative councils (MPP). The Higher Education Ministry, said its Minister Datuk Seri Mohamed Khaled Nordin, is in the final stages of drafting the amendments needed to be made to Sections 15 and 16 of the Universities and University Colleges Act 1971 (Auku).

The draft would be submitted to the Attorney General’s Chambers in mid-June for approval and then presented to the Cabinet, where other ministries’ input would be sought, before the amendment bill would be tabled in Parliament by the end of this year.

Speaking at an Auku townhall session held at the ministry with various stakeholders, from tertiary students to university management, on April 6, Mohamed Khaled said there were at least three views concerning Auku – that it should be retained with some amendments and improvements; that it should be maintained with amendments and be renamed; and that it should be completely replaced by a new Act.“After examining the various views, I believe most people are leaning towards wanting the amendments to be made, instead of having it abolished altogether.

“I believe students too would welcome the amendments,” he said.

He added that the ministry agreed to the move as it was cognisant of the fact that times had changed and students now need freedom of space to develop their maturity and personalities, besides knowledge. He also said an issue that was often raised was that students were not free to run their activities, with the need to obtain approval from their university management and financial constraints as among the reasons.

“Seeing that this is something we believe can overcome the students’ feelings of being restricted, we will amend it.

“The amendments will allow them to be free to decide the types of activities they want to take part in and to manage their finances.

“In this regard, the student union will be given the power and role to monitor and perform the responsibilities,” he said, adding that both the MPP and their respective universities would have to discuss the guidelines that need to be established.

To ensure successful implementation, Mohamed Khaled said students must be responsible and trustworthy, have integrity, and be good at management.“The student representatives are elected. If they fail to implement well, other students will remove the leaders.

“That’s why the ministry agreed to the amendments. We want to strengthen values such as responsibility and accountability,” he said.

He added that while students would be granted autonomy, they would still be subject to rules and regulations.

“The students will decide on the guidelines and rules, how their leaders manage their finances well and with fairness,” he said.

If problems arise, he added, students should negotiate and discuss with their university management.

“Resistance to the university or the authorities will not get us anywhere,” he said adding that one of the important values students need to possess in order to succeed beyond the univeristy is the ability to act, practise tolerance and collaborate with other people, instead of developing a nature of resistance.

While student affairs in IPTA often drew attention, resulting in the proposed amendments to Sections 15 and 16 – the only two sections in Auku related to students – the ministry, said Mohamed Khaled, is aware of other Auku-related matters that need to be relooked.

“We need further engagement to delve deeper into each of these issues,” he said.

Citing academic freedom, which is not part of Auku but is under the Statutory Bodies (Discipline and Surcharge) Act 2000 (Act 605), he said it had been raised that the latter was not suitable for the world of academia.

Even so, he said, this was no excuse to subject academics to Auku.

“Either we ask for amendments to the Act itself or we move it somewhere else,” he said, adding that Auku-related concerns such as the role of the registrar, bursar and head librarian would be discussed even further.

In his speech, Mohamed Khaled also said if the amendments to Auku were approved, the Universiti Teknologi Mara (UiTM) Act 173 would be subject to amendments, as well, as the varsity is currently run independent of Auku.

“UiTM is not subject to Auku but there are clauses in the UiTM Act that are similar to the clauses in Auku.

“We will also amend it so that no one can say UiTM students are lagging behind other universities because their university Act is not amended,” he said.

Deputy Higher Education Minister Datuk Mohammad Yusof Apdal was also present at the townhall, which saw Universiti Sains Malaysia (USM) legal adviser Dr Khairul Anuar Che Azmi and former Higher Education director-general Prof Datuk Dr Husaini Omar addressing the audience.

Gazetted on April 30, 1971, Auku is the source of authority for the establishment and governance of 20 IPTA, as well as the source of power that connects the accountability of IPTA to the government and society (refer to infographic).

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