Up for the challenge


IT’S time for the country’s tertiary students to be given greater autonomy, especially when it comes to financial matters.

Currently, student movements in public institutions of higher learning (IPTA) are subjected to strict regulations and are often limited in their ability to generate income and bring about change.

If funds remain locked away by the management of IPTA, student bodies will not be able to prosper, said Universiti Malaya Students’ Union (UMSU) president Ooi Guo Shen.

 The time has come, he said, for autonomous access to be given to student councils that have proven themselves to be responsible and competent.

“Capacity building workshops and frameworks for co-governance with the varsity’s management can be put in place to assist student representatives who require guidance.

“The end goal should be to lead them towards greater autonomy in handling student welfare, sports, activities and entrepreneurship.

“Student councils can, for example, operate services like university transport and be involved in vendor selection for the campus.

“But for this to happen, financial autonomy must be given soon,” he told StarEdu.

Welcoming Higher Education Minister Datuk Seri Mohamed Khaled Nordin’s recent pledge for student councils to be given more room to take charge of their own affairs, Ooi said the mechanics for capacity building and accountability would, however, have to be in place.

On April 6, Mohamed Khaled said during a townhall session on the Universities and University Colleges Act 1971 (Auku) that his ministry is in the final stages of drafting the amendments to Sections 15 and 16 of the Act, which would enable students to decide on their activities and manage their accounts.

He gave his assurance that amendments would be made to abolish restrictions on the freedom of students and academics, adding that the ministry aimed to table the amendments in Parliament this year.

Earlier on March 28, he told Parliament that with greater autonomy, students should no longer be running to the ministry and government for funds.

“When we let students handle their own accounts and financials, which include receiving, finding and raising their own funds, that means their reliance on the university and government to pay for all their activities will be reduced,” he said.

The ministry, said Mohamed Khaled in his New Year message to ministry staff on Jan 30, wants to empower students by giving them autonomy and governance to operate their businesses in universities.

Stressing the importance of empowering student unions and student movements, he said there is a need to allow them to have a greater say in the direction of their education.

“We must trust our students to run businesses, handle finances in their societies, and plan how they can implement the student agenda,” he said, adding that student unions should be given the opportunity to operate businesses like laundromats, book shops, pharmacies, computer fixes, bus rentals, university merchandising and cafes.

The move, he said, would create jobs for students, and returns from the businesses could be used to fund their activities.

Universities, he added, should focus on selling their expertise through project negotiations, not running small businesses, which should be fully entrusted to students.

Universiti Putra Malaysia (UPM) Student Representative Council member Ng Peng Han said at the varsity, all finances have to be approved by the student affairs department – a process which takes a long time.

“Even if a proposal has been accepted by all student leaders in our student parliament, we still need to send it to the student affairs department for approval.

“It doesn’t matter if the suggestion was collectively agreed based on students’ opinions, data or townhall sessions; it is still the management who has the final say. The management can veto any decision whenever they want.”

Citing his experience of handling an issue involving the theft of a parcel on campus, Ng said it took almost half a year just to get a CCTV installed.

“It was a straightforward matter which could have been easily settled yet it took so long to be addressed.

“I am the faculty leader but I can’t make changes to benefit those who elected me? This is not autonomy,” he added.

Ooi said the “Little Napoleans” in the various varsity departments have to be dealt with if Mohamed Khaled’s vision to empower students is to be achieved.

“Even if the minister or vice-chancellor has the best intention and noble goals, nothing would materialise so long as those reporting to them are not committed to change,” he said, adding with greater autonomy, student clubs and organisations will refer to the student councils, instead of the university management.

International Islamic University Malaysia (IIUM) Kuantan, said its student union deputy president II Amir Farhan Mohammad Zamri, has a good entrepreneurship environment as students are given opportunities to establish businesses.IIUMSU, he said, is planning to organise weekly night markets on campus to generate funds for its activities.

“We will handle the logistics and promotions and we will collect rent from the vendors.“We are also aiming to get into the vending machine business as it can generate good passive income,” Amir Farhan added.

 The ministry’s vision for students to reduce their reliance on the university, especially when it comes to funding their own activities, is to be lauded.

We must give our students space to be more independent and smart in taking charge of financial matters.

Managing businesses on campus is a great way to expose them to entrepreneurship.

As students would be catering to a much smaller market on campus as compared to doing business in the larger community, where they would have to compete with experienced business operators, this would give them the opportunity to hone their skills and improve their services.

By operating on campus, where their customers are mainly fellow students, they will be able to learn from trial and error. Over time, they will be better at handling their customers and managing their businesses.

By the time they graduate, the experience would have definitely prepared them for the challenges of a bigger and much more competitive market.

Here are some suggestions to ease our students into doing business in the real world:

Providing training and workshops on financial and business management to student bodies.

  • Applying the mentor-mentee concept and business ethics as preparatory courses.
  • Offering seed money as capital for student unions to start a business and allowing them a grace period to pay back when they can manage on their own.
  • Inviting SMEs to provide guidance and advice so that students are prepared for the challenges ahead and can plan ways to mitigate them.
  • Including business performance as part of their academic assessments so that they will take the endeavour seriously.

– Shahira Ariffin, senior lecturer, Faculty of Business and Management, Universiti Teknologi Mara (UiTM) Puncak Alam

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