It was an 11th-hour move that was financially and emotionally draining for many students and their parents, Mustafa K Anuar writes.
Once again, the Ministry of Higher Education grabbed the headlines but, like before, for the wrong reason.
This time around, its Minister, Noraini Ahmad of TikTok infamy, instructed new and current students at the last minute to register online for the new semester, in the wake of the spike in Covid-19 cases across the country, especially after the Sabah election.
By then, thousands of students had already reached their respective campuses, while others were on their way from home to their final destinations.
It was an 11th-hour move that was financially and emotionally draining for many students and their parents, particularly those from poor or disadvantaged backgrounds. To return home would mean extra expenditure and acute inconvenience that poor students could ill afford, especially those who hail from places far from their respective universities.
We are talking of lower-income parents, especially those who have been financially affected by the battered economy following the pandemic. A few were said to have taken bus rides to send their children for the supposed registration exercise. In other words, these parents have enough burdens on their shoulders. They don’t need this, really.
And, like before, the ministry then made a U-turn by instructing public universities not to turn away students who had already arrived on campuses for registration and to allow them to stay on campuses until further instructions.
Such flip-flop decisions predictably earned the wrath of many students and parents and should have been avoided because it is a ministry whose policies and decisions have huge implications for thousands of students. The ministry is dealing with adults, who should be treated in a manner befitting thinking adults. Sloppy management is uncalled for. Some students have already demanded Noraini’s resignation for what appears to be her dereliction of duty.
Given the disruptive nature of the coronavirus pandemic, one would have thought the ministry would have contingency plans ready to be enforced when the occasion arises so that inconveniences to students and parents could be minimised and the quality of education not drastically affected.
Now that some students have been allowed to stay on campuses, the question of logistical support comes to mind. Will cafeterias be open to serve the needs of students on campus? What about transport for students staying on and off campus? Will there be teaching in classes for those already on campus? Will on-campus clinics be made available to these students? How long will these students be allowed to stay? These are some questions that need to be addressed quickly and effectively to ensure the safety, comfort and health of the students.
The initiatives of certain individuals and groups to raise funds for these unfortunate students are most appreciated, as they will help to ease the burden felt by the students and their parents.
Additionally, the government must play a part in alleviating their financial constraints, especially of the needy students.
The new semester should have begun with much joyful anticipation, especially for new students.