University must uphold the spirit of freedom and pluralism

PRESS STATEMENT

I beg to differ with Higher Education Minister Datuk Seri Khaled Nordin that university students holistic development would be deterred if they were allowed to join political parties.

The proposed changes to the University and University Colleges ACT (UUCA) is purely cosmetic. The key role of institutions of higher learning is to promote independent thinking and the ability to process and create new knowledge. Therefore to clamp down on the freedom of students to partake in active politics is to curb any form of dissent in the country.

The Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi’s rallying cry at the general election is to bring about reforms. But the stay on the ban reflects that the administration and Barisan Nasional fears student power. It is also clear that Abdullah is following in the footsteps of former premier Dr Mahathir Mohamad, whose 22 years in power was largely attributed to the use of various laws to thwart nonconformity.

It is common knowledge that the enactment and amendment of the University and University Colleges Act in 1971 were politically motivated to suppress vigorous student movement. However the assault on student movements only moved to further radicalize them. This is evident in the conviction by the students to stand by squatter dwellers and rubber tappers in the Tasik Utara (Johor) and Baling incidents, respectively.

I therefore believe that university and college students must be allowed their basic right to formulate their thoughts and participate in the democratic process of the country. The government must allow the nurturing of an intellectual culture that promotes critical thinking among students.

In view of this, the proposed amendment to UUCA must :

– Promote the fundamental liberty of all students in exercising their democratic and political rights as citizen
– Uphold the spirit of freedom and pluralism
– Ensure academic freedom
– Ensure autonomy of student organizations
– Allow student councils to approve student activities and conduct campus elections

Charles Santiago

Member of Parliament Klang

5 August, 2008

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