The irrelevance of student leaders

ukec-studentBy Fariz Usman

In the coming months, there will be a deluge of events organised for the Malaysian student community at home and abroad. None will come bigger than the Malaysian Student Leaders’ Summit (MSLS) on Aug 19, 2017, organised by the United Kingdom and Eire Council of Malaysian Students (UKEC). Or is it?

Back in the days, the UKEC reigned supreme at home and abroad, reputed as the premier Malaysian student organisation and unparalleled anywhere else. It gave birth to many inspiring people who are now leaders in their own right in their respective industries. This was the breeding ground for the likes of Rafizi Ramli, Nik Nazmi Nik Ahmad, Tengku Zafrul Aziz and even Arul Kanda Kandasamy.

Now, the council is a shadow of its old self. UKEC was created as a body to represent the students’ collective interests and add value to the student community. They used to have inspiring people-centric initiatives like Projek Kalsom, UKECharisma and Projek Pelita. Since those grand old days, Kalsom and Charisma have both now become independent due to UKEC’s neglect of them, while Projek Pelita’s last activity was in 2013.

UKEC includes Ireland, but it is disproportionately represented with hardly any say in UKEC.

Malaysian students in the UK and Ireland may have differences in opinion on many things but a huge majority of them share one consensus: that their student representatives are just an elite group of “student leaders” perched on their high horses.

They use funds generated from their corporate sponsors to organise lavish “student summits” which have no impact on anyone but themselves. A day after these events, you start seeing all these selfies and self-congratulatory posts about how great the events went and the role they played in them.

Like how Ricky Gervais always chides award winners for being emotional and long-winded, it rings true here in that the event doesn’t matter to anyone else but these student leaders because they have been nothing but mere sound bites to real people who are actually desperate for change.

This has been evident for a long time but last year’s MSLS was the biggest proof of it all. Organised at the UEM KL Sentral hall which was meant for 500 people, only 120 people attended it for each day of the two-day summit. Where were the rest? They were at the Tangkap MO1 rally calling for the arrest of MO1 in light of the 1MDB scandal, and there were actually more people at that rally than the summit itself. When asked about this, UKEC was silent and said nothing about the poor attendance nor the Tangkap MO1 protest.

This was a clear rejection by the students of this self-serving class of elites that is now growing irrelevant by the day. Now they plan to organise it at the Kuala Lumpur Convention Centre. They don’t realise that the youth today no longer want to participate in talk fests. They want to be actively participating in discussions that will lead to solutions. However, that is not offered anywhere by these “student leaders”.

Student organisations like UKEC continue to hold the tag of an “event organiser” spending hundreds of thousands of ringgit for one summit. This can be proven at the annual general meeting, where the annual budget is presented.

A member of UKEC’s supreme council revealed anonymously that one MSLS can cost more than RM180,000, leading to protests from Malaysian student societies across the UK and Ireland which could have utilised that amount of money to assist needy students. Better yet, that money could have gone towards paying for university tuition fees of students who lost opportunities to study in the UK after the recent cut in JPA scholarships.

There are just so many scandals and wrongdoings being committed in UKEC, that you would have thought this was happening at national-level politics. Perhaps it is time for the supreme council to investigate what’s happening in this decades-old organisation that is now operating behind closed doors instead of being public with their accounts and operations, with elections only by the elite instead of the entire Malaysian student body in the UK and Ireland. It no longer serves the best interests of the student community.

This article is not calling for an end to student activism and intellectualism. It is calling for an end to the corrupt practices that are happening right before our very eyes by these “student leaders” who act no different than those abusing their power at the top.

We are better than that. If we truly strive for transparency and accountability, it is time we start with ourselves, even at the student level. Otherwise, the students would all just grow up like the current batch of leaders we have in our country. It is time for all of us to stand up against all of this for the good of the country.

Fariz Usman is an FMT reader.

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No plans yet for second Tangkap MO1 rally