Academic backs Putrajaya’s move to amend, not repeal UUCA

Universiti Malaya law lecturer Azmi Sharom.

PETALING JAYA: A prominent academic has defended the education ministry’s move to amend rather than immediately repeal the controversial Universities and University Colleges Act (UUCA), despite earlier assurances from the Pakatan Harapan (PH) government that the law would be abolished.

Universiti Malaya law lecturer Azmi Sharom told FMT that repealing the UUCA would take time as it would need to be replaced by another law.

In the meantime, he said, amending parts of the UUCA which were “particularly offensive” to students was the right move as it was “low-hanging fruit”.

“A lot of the UUCA is very technical and has to do with the governance of universities, so a lot of thought needs to go into its replacement.

“You can’t just scrap the UUCA as it also has a lot to do with the day-to-day running and structure of universities.”

He said the government must be given time to come up with alternatives to aspects of the act which need to be fixed, including who makes up a university’s board and how these appointments are made.

More importantly, he said, there should be a revision of disciplinary rules at each university as these are set by the individual institutions.

He said it was the universities’ rules which actually created problems for students in terms of academic freedom and freedom of expression.

“These rules need to be examined. What is key is that a university’s rules should be in line with the Federal Constitution,” he said, noting that Education Minister Maszlee Malik had assured that the government would still repeal the UUCA in time.

The UUCA (Amendment) Bill 2018 was tabled in the Dewan Rakyat yesterday, along with two others also aimed at allowing students of higher education to participate in political activities on campus.

Universiti Malaya Association of New Youth (Umany) president Wong Yan Ke said the group understood that repealing the UUCA would take time as a replacement act needed to be established.

However, he voiced disappointment that provisions like Article 15A and 16 of the act remained untouched.

He told FMT that these provisions still affected student autonomy in terms of freedom of speech and association.

He said Article 15A prohibited student bodies from collecting funds and accessing and managing their own finances, while the procedure for making claims was “too complicated and inefficient”.

Article 16, meanwhile, gave absolute power to the university’s board and vice-chancellor to determine if a student’s actions were unsuitable or detrimental to the university.

He reiterated Umany’s demand for the total repeal of the UUCA, saying university students should not be treated like kindergarten children.

In the 1960s, he added, the Universiti Malaya Student Union had its own funds which it used to run shuttle bus services and maintain the canteen and other buildings.