We in the Malaysian academic movement Gerak wish to comment on a series of photographs and a video that went viral earlier this month over social media.
In it, an official from Umno, a political party, was officiating a ceremony awarding admission letters to potential undergraduates for the October intake at Universiti Utara Malaysia (UUM), a public higher education institution funded by Malaysian taxpayers and not one belonging to any political party.
In the video, dated 7 October, Sik Kedah Umno chief Mohd Tajuddin Abdullah is shown officiating the ceremony.
The immediate question that we pose is: why does UUM – or any public university – need a political party chief to award the admission letters on their behalf?
And, more worryingly, where does the relationship start and where will it end?
A public higher learning institution of repute is supposed to be above politics, to be the conscious voice of the rakyat, solely meant for teaching and research, and authorised to grant accredited academic degrees for the nation.
An excellent university contributes to society through the provision of education, learning and research at the highest level, nationally and internationally.
In doing so, universities, especially public universities like UUM, must be independent and free of external pressures. Alternative discourses and critics are, of course, welcome, and differences of ideas and opinions must be appreciated and entertained.
A political party, on the other hand, is made up of a group of similar-minded individuals organised to exercise and acquire political power, hoping to lead to the eventual running of a nation after winning a general election.
Members of a political party hold similar ideas about politics, and parties may promote specific ideological or policy goals. The pyramidal structure, as exhibited in political parties in Malaysia, means that dissent is almost always deemed a blasphemous activity. There is this notion of party loyalty and collective responsibly.
So, based on what transpired in the video, Gerak asks: how could these two institutions – one a public university, the other a political party; one UUM and the other Umno – work hand in hand in this manner?
How deep is the relationship between these two institutions – surely meant to be separate from each other and certainly not joined together at the hip like Siamese twins?
Despite public perception that the awarding of university places, ethnic quotas notwithstanding, is determined by the universities concerned, such videos do cast doubts about the non-political nature of the process of selection.
Indeed, does Umno have a hand in selecting students for admission to UUM? The award ceremony, as pictured in the video, conjures images and thoughts of such an amicable relationship between these two and easily ‘misleads’ the public into thinking that Umno controls UUM in having some say in student selection and enrolment.
Gerak’s stand is that such practices must stop. The higher education minister must take cognisance of what happened in this case and make sure that it is not commonplace. She could put this down as her key performance indicator (KPI) for the fast-approaching 100-day report that we are all anticipating, more so than the prime minister.
If this is yet another bad habit of university administrators who wish to rub shoulders with political party leaders, then they should be given notice and advised to set up universities of their own and not use public funds to bankroll such activities.
University administrators must separate their university responsibilities from their personal agendas, political views and aspirations.
Public universities like UUM must remain neutral and serve the public and national agenda alone. If they haven’t done so thus far, it is time they did because the rakyat are watching, and many, like Gerak, are not amused. – Gerak