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Lively debate in town hall session on Auku

Questions are raised on the abolishment versus the amendment of the act, and freedom of association, among others.

Nur Hasliza Mohd Salleh
2 minute read
Students gather for a discussion in a hall at a university in Serdang, Selangor, in this file picture.
Students gather for a discussion in a hall at a university in Serdang, Selangor, in this file picture.

A town hall session and open dialogue with students on the amendment of the Universities and University Colleges Act 1971 (Auku) saw a lively discussion today on a number of issues. 

The public discussion session, which ran for about three hours, was attended by Higher Education Minister Mohamed Khaled Nordin, Deputy Minister Mohammad Yusof Apdal, academics, representatives of university administrators, and student representatives.

One question of interest was whether limits would be placed on the authority of the deputy vice-chancellor of student affairs – considered an authority in the control of student movements, especially in the organisation of activities on campus. 

Questions were also raised on the freedom of representation and the independent management of student group funds without the control of university administrations, and whether these would be guaranteed in the latest Auku amendment. 

Some student representatives meanwhile asked why the higher education ministry was still debating the amendments instead of moving to repeal it. 

"Given the political commitment, we could abolish Auku," said a representative from the Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia (UKM) student association. 

The ministry during a question-and-answer session in the Dewan Rakyat on March 16 had said that amending the act would be better than directly repealing it. 

Today's session was one of a number expected to be held on the matter at universities across the country. 

Khaled assured that students would be given the freedom they wished for within the next year, through the latest amendment – the eighth over some five decades. 

He said it was important for students to be able to move on their own, in tolerance and cooperation with parties within and outside of the university. 

"We want collaboration, not opposition," he said. 

"That is not what we are looking for in our students, rather the values needed to suceed when we leave university." 

Representatives from university administrations meanwhile asked about the freedom of association and student representatives who received financial contributions, including from politicians. 

Guests were also given the opportunity to share their views and experiences with Auku while at university themselves. 

A former Universiti Sains Malaysia (USM) student representative who had attended the university in the 1980s said they had not felt constrained as the act had influence even over the community outside of the campus. 

"As long as you don't touch the ceiling, you are free to move," he said. 

Independent speaker Ridhuan Tee Abdullah, who was also a student representative at UKM, said students during the Auku era had been clever in organising activities, to the point that their influence exceeded the act. 

Universiti Utara Malaysia lecturer Azizuddin Sani meanwhile said that the image of Auku as an iron-fisted act was only the perception of students. 

He said the act had been amended seven times already, giving students more freedom to move and participate in politics. 

"What else do they want?" he said.

Sivamurugan Pandian of USM meanwhile said the dilemma of students was that they wanted freedom of space, access, infrastructure and money. 

"The question is, is Auku bigger than the university board or the other way around?" he said.