The big picture of UKEC


By Azeem Abu Bakar

I write in response to an opinion piece by Fariz Usman, published on June 24. As someone who served in the United Kingdom and Eire Council of Malaysian Students (UKEC) from 2010-2012, I find that the writer appears not to understand the role and function of this student organisation. The writer’s central assumption is that the UKEC’s main role is to engage in political issues, when it is actually nation-building in general.

“Nation-building” does not equate to politics, but politics is a part of “nation-building.” It is a shame that Fariz has not only failed to provide a holistic view of UKEC’s role, but also does not understand what the student organisation is trying to achieve through its five “core businesses”, namely tackling the issue of brain drain, engaging in charitable activities, promoting unity, promoting Malaysia and engaging in intellectual discourse.

These activities are all critical in helping to build our nation, and are a very noble endeavour, rather than attempting to criticise and tear down what generations before us have so painstakingly tried to build.

The UKEC is proactive in trying to help stem the problem of brain drain through its annual UKEC-Graduan Career Fair, which helps thousands of students return home to take up job offers in Malaysia. UKEC is also active in organising charity initiatives like Projek Kalsom (from the early 1990s to 2010), Projek Pelita, a book donation drive for Sarawak libraries, the Impact forum and Project Charisma.

It runs unity projects and supports events in the UK that connect Malaysian students across the country such as the Nottingham Games. To promote our country abroad, the UKEC supports Malaysian societies in publicising and organising Malaysia Nights that showcase our nation’s arts and culture in the UK. Yet, arm-chair critics attempt to label the UKEC as a solely political entity.

Out of the 15,000 Malaysian students studying in the UK and Ireland, only a small group of individuals is interested in politics. The majority of them love to volunteer and contribute to the UKEC’s charity projects, while some wish to secure jobs and others want to promote their nation through the arts and culture. These individuals will shy away from a highly political UKEC and this is why the council always strives to be balanced and all-encompassing in its approach.

Of course the UKEC also organises events which involve political issues and personalities. How can it not when it is in the organisation’s DNA to help nurture and build future leaders for our country?

The student council is also mandated by its stakeholders to provide platforms for non-partisan intellectual discourse. The Malaysian Student Leaders Summit and Projek Amanat Negara are forums for students to engage with politicians and corporate leaders directly, and in an intellectually conducive environment that aids the thinking and ideation process.

But Fariz appears to prefer street rallies to robust debates and discussions. It might serve him well to remember that revolutions more often than not bring about violent change and chaos, whereas it is diplomacy, negotiation and engagement that bring about a peaceful, progressive and prosperous society.

I believe that we need both to be a strong nation but we cannot give up reason and rationale in favour of mob justice and rule. Not everyone expresses themselves through demonstrations. Many prefer to engage directly with politicians from both sides of the aisle. This is the gap that the UKEC fills. But despite this noble intention, the UKEC is labelled as “elitist”.

In order to bolster his straw-man argument, Fariz has also conveniently failed to mention that the funders of the UKEC’s student forums are mainly corporations. Yes, it’s corporate money and not funds from the government or any political party. These corporates sponsor the student summits to promote their brand, and participate in mini career fairs outside the venues as well as showcase their CEOs and senior management at these events so as to engage with Malaysia’s future. But Fariz would rather that these funds contributed by companies be “better used” in aiding JPA scholars?

I am deeply saddened that individuals like Fariz appear to only want to tear down opportunities for intellectual discourse and debate in favour of sloganeering and rabble rousing, without making any clear argument or showing any evidence as to how these street rallies are a better bet in helping inspire and build a core of next generation leaders who have the nation-building skills and vision needed for our country.

The UKEC is NOT a pressure group. This is because unlike student bodies in Malaysia, the UKEC has a unique obligation to serve all 15,000 Malaysian students in the UK and Ireland. And that is what it does. Deriding this organisation only serves to highlight a shallow and vacuous mind.

Azeem Abu Bakar served as UKEC’s director of strategy for the 2011/2012 term.

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