We've been anticipating the proposed changes to the UUCA for some time now. Both Tony and I have blogged about this in the past - here, here and here - and we both agree that the UUCA is too restrictive and needs to be reformed. But according to this latest Mkini report, the proposed changes to the UUCA are purely 'cosmetic'.
I haven't read the proposed bill which details the changes in the UUCA but according to the Malaysiakini report reproduced below, it still bars students in public universities from joining political parties and allows the VCs and the Minister for Higher Education way too much latitude in deciding which organizations students were banned from joining.
Firstly, I think this kind of ban borders on being unconstitutional. What ever happened to freedom of association? Secondly, with this kind of suppression of political activities among university students, is it surprising that we have about 5 million unregistered voters in the country, a majority of whom are below 35 years of age?
Students slam 'cosmetic' changes to UUCA
Tarani Palani and Rahmah Ghazali | Jul 18, 08 1:21pm
Student leaders have described the proposed amendments to the Universities and University Colleges Act (UCCA), the law which regulates their participation in political activities, as “cosmetic”.
"We do not agree with the amendments, and as we have suspected, the suggested amendments do not solve the difficulties faced by students (in political activities),” said Faridzul Nasarudin, a researcher for University Students’ Movement to Abolish UUCA (GMMA).
“The amendments are superficial and politically cosmetic."
He said the proposed changes to section 15 and 16 of the bill, which are made by the Higher Education Ministry, did not amount to much.
"The language used does not give students any concrete freedom. We can see that the decisive power still very much lies in the hands of the university administration and the minister."
Under the existing Act, students in Malaysian universities are not allowed to participate in any organisation that is political in nature.
Section 15(1) in the amended bill stipulates that students must still abstain from political activities, despite the provision allowing them to participate in “general organisations”. Even in this, the final say is with the higher education minister and university administrators.
According the amended section, university students “may become members of any society and organisation in or outside Malaysia”. But it bans student participation in “political parties, any unlawful organisation, and any organisation which the minister has specified in writing to vice-chancellors as unsuitable to the interests and well-being of the students or the university”.
Faridzul lamented that the proposed changes continue to restrict student activitism.
“Although some of the amendments open the door for greater student freedom, the limitations set are against human rights.”
Student leaders make suggestions
GMMA representatives yesterday handed a ‘suggestion paper’ on the organisation’s views regarding the amendments to Lembah Pantai MP Nurul Izzah in Parliament.
Co-coordinator Ridzuan Mohammad stressed that students are capable of critical thinking and have followed the law by submitting their suggestions and not taking to the streets to voice their dissatisfaction.
"We have not acted rashly. We have the capability to think intellectually and thus we are submitting this suggestion paper. At least, we have not organised demonstrations."
raja petra court case 060508 nurul izzahNurul Izzah (right) backed the students and argued that the proposed amendments fail to reflect the demands and aspirations of students.
Meanwhile, Segambut MP Lim Lip Eng, when asked, stated “the amendments still have a lot of restrictions, with an ambiguous section 15."
Batu Gajah MP Fong Po Kuan - a law graduate of the International Islamic University - added that the much-awaited amendments are “disappointing as it still restricts student involvement in politics”.
However both parliamentarians conceded that there are improvements in the proposed amendments.
According to Lim, those who breach the UCCA will now face a ‘disciplinary action committee’ instead of being charged in court.
Fong said that previously anyone found guilty would be subjected to immediate suspension but now the decision lies with the discretion of the vice-chancellor.
GMMA has also presented its suggestion paper to Backbenchers Club (BBC) chairperson Tiong King Sing on Tuesday.
According to Ridzuan, the backbenchers chief said he was not in favour of abolishing the UCCA but was willing to support amending or removal of certain sections opposed by students.
The ministry has tabled the amended bill on Wednesday night.
However, the higher education deputy minister requested debate on the bill be put off to the next sitting of parliament in August.
Parliament ended its current session yesterday.