Comparing university students then and now

IT was with a mixture of sadness and disbelief that I read the letter by Azidi of Seremban on Jan 9 (“Experience would yield better responses” The Star; online at

In his letter, he referred to Prof Dr Mohd Tajuddin Mohd Rasdi’s Over the Top column ( in The Star in which the professor lamented the fact that university students he interviewed were unable to answer four simple questions: What book they had read that had changed their lives, what books they would read to improve themselves, what lessons they had learnt from cultures or faiths other than their own, and what they would ask if they could interview the Prime Minister or vice-chancellor. The columnist also wondered why the students would be in awe of people like the PM and vice-chancellor.

Azidi maintained, however, that Prof Tajuddin’s negative assessment was due to the fact that the students were not yet graduates and did not have the experience that could be gained from working. He said university students, because of their workload, have little time to read other books; that it is understandable that they lack crosscultural experience because they lack social interaction; and that it’s natural they would be overawed when meeting such personages as the PM or vice-chancellor.

If this is true, it is sad to know that Malaysian university students are cocooned in their own little worlds, far removed from the society they live in through ignorance or lack of interest.

During my time as a student at Universiti Malaya in the late 1960s, students were knowledgeable about issues outside of their academic work. They were capable of critical thinking. They were acutely aware of the state of the nation and of the world; they read books other than the prescribed texts; they lived in a multicultural environment on campus; and held their own in discussions with the vice-chancellor.

They acquired these skills long before they graduated or had working experience. In fact, the students were so knowledgeable and passionate about freedoms and human rights that they started the Speakers Corner where the more vocal of them articulated their views on subjects such as freedom and politics and even the quality of hostel food.

Mind you, all this happened when the available news sources were only newspapers, radio and, later, television. We had no WhatsApp, Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Tik Tok, YouTube and everything else to keep us posted and informed about a wide variety of current issues.

In fact, students today should therefore be in a better position than the students of 60 years ago to provide adequate, reasoned and innovative answers to Prof Tajuddin’s four simple questions.

I believe they are. But am very sad if they are not.

PHILIP M. Kuala Lumpur

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