Education ministry sacks members of panel studying abolition of varsity act

The Universities and University Colleges Act is among several draconian laws Pakatan Harapan promised to repeal in its election manifesto.

PUTRAJAYA: The education ministry has terminated members of a working committee made up of student activists to study the Universities and University Colleges Act (UUCA), FMT has learned.

Confirming this, a committee member questioned the move to remove her and her colleagues, saying it came just as they were about to submit their draft report to the ministry.

Azura Nasron also said they were informed summarily about their termination through a WhatsApp message last Saturday, without any reason given.

“We demand an explanation. At least, there should be a proper handover of tasks to the new appointees,” she told FMT.

An insider in the ministry said the decision was made as there was too much resistance from members to suggestions from ministry representatives in the committee.

A source aligned to former minister Maszlee Malik claims the move confirms worries that Dr Mahathir Mohamad, who took over as the interim education minister, would scale back on reforms to allow more academic freedom.

The ministry’s Student Development Division confirmed to FMT the committee’s members had been dropped, saying it was something decided long ago.

The division’s director, Zaid Omar, said the decision was final and that new appointees would be announced soon.

“We will appoint fresh faces to the committee, those who are still students, to give their views on reforming UUCA,” he told FMT.

The committee, tasked with studying the abolition of UUCA, was formed in December 2018.

In the same month, the Dewan Rakyat passed amendments to the act, lifting restrictions on political and academic freedom.

UUCA was among several draconian laws Pakatan Harapan promised to repeal in its election manifesto.

The law, enacted in 1971, was amended in 1975 under Mahathir when he was the education minister, banning students in both public and private higher education institutions from active politics as well as taking part in protests.

Mahathir had defended the move as the right thing to do at that time in the wake of widescale anti-government protests by undergraduates, saying Malay students were lagging academically due to their involvement in politics.