Maszlee Malik’s departure as education minister has seen some within the ministry coming out to claim that he had appointed people aligned to a certain Muslim organisation during his tenure and that they should be reviewed.
However, some academics Malaysiakini spoke to are putting forth an opposite argument – that some within the ministry see Maszlee’s departure as an opportunity to stall his reform efforts and revert to the status quo.
“They want the status quo reinstated… So, they want all of Maszlee’s attempts at reforms thwarted, hence are painting the reforms simply as Ikram (an Islamic NGO) infiltration.
“There is a need to alert the public and by extension, Parliament and cabinet, about saboteurs or deep state elements in the ministry,” the source, who is a respected figure in the academic world, told Malaysiakini on condition of anonymity.
Malaysiakini learnt that one such move that has raised concern is the removal of student representatives on a technical committee to reform the Universities and University Colleges Act 1971 (UUCA), including a possible repeal and complete replacement.
When contacted, Wong Yan Ke, who was one of the students on the committee, confirmed that they were abruptly dropped yesterday, shortly after Maszlee’s departure. Prime Minister Dr Mahathir Mohamad is currently acting education minister.
“We just received the message on WhatsApp yesterday whereby they told us that all the students in the committee will be removed and they said it is because we are no longer students, we are graduates so that’s why they need to replace us with someone who is currently a student,” Wong said.
He said they received no indication that they would be terminated from the committee before the message yesterday.
All he got, he added, was an email after the message containing a letter of appreciation for his contributions to the UUCA committee which did not mention his removal from it.
The letter, sighted by Malaysiakini, is dated Dec 24, 2019, and signed by the Higher Education Department director-general Mohd Saleh Jaafar.
Wong has been under media scrutiny in the past year, first for being manhandled by former prime minister Najib Abdul Razak’s supporters over his “clown-faced Najib mask”, then for claiming police intimidation after attending Hong Kong’s anti-extradition to China movement event in Kuala Lumpur and lastly, for the ruckus caused by his brief protest during his graduation.
With the removal of the students from the UUCA technical committee, Wong said he is now worried that the UUCA may not actually be repealed, despite earlier indications during the committee process.
“We were quite happy with the report because a lot of things they mentioned (indicate) they want to abolish UUCA and enact a new law…and it is more towards a protective law rather than a restrictive law, so we are quite satisfied with it,” he said.
The initial plan, Wong added, was for the new law to be tabled in Parliament by the end of this year.
“(But) now we suspect whether UUCA will be repealed, this is what we are sceptical of now,” he said.
Good to start afresh
Malaysiakini spoke to the director of the Higher Education Department’s Development of Students Division, Zaid Omar, who was the one who sent the WhatsApp message informing the students of the termination of their services to the committee.
He explained that after discussions with the Higher Education Department’s Governance Division, they decided to replace the current batch of student representatives in the committee with a new line-up as many of the current representatives have already graduated.
“We want members in the committee to be from the students themselves and it turns out a lot of the students who were supposedly representing the students, have graduated.
“We figured it is good to start afresh, we would like to appoint a new batch of students,” Zaid said.
When asked whether the new line-up of student representatives would affect the progress of the committee, which was said to be in its final stages, Zaid said there is still a lot of work to be done.
“I do not believe the committee is truly in its final stages, I believe there are some ways to go before the new UUCA can be ratified.
“There is still a lot of work and the (new) students can still play a part (in the committee),” he said.
However, he acknowledged that some of those removed are still students and he would be happy to re-appoint them into the committee.
“We will review the setup and the composition of the committee among the student members and those who we feel can still play a part, we will be happy to re-appoint them at a later stage.
“For example, one of the students association is the Higher Education Malaysia Association (Heya), which is mostly Chinese-based, and they have two or three student members in the committee, so I am happy to work with them again and re-appoint them because they are still students and they are quite active and a vocal presence in the committee,” Zaid said.
He added that his department is currently in the process of identifying and appointing the new student representatives in the committee by working with student representative councils.
Hopefully, the new student representatives will be appointed by next week, he said.
Media and communications professor Zaharom Nain told Malaysiakini that the move to remove the student representatives from the UUCA technical committee came as a surprise.
This is because, he said, the committee is already in the stage of drafting a new law to replace UUCA.
Zaharom, who is also on the committee but in the academics group, said they have all done their engagements and presented their findings to the committee.
“The students have had their engagements, we have had engagements with the academics, the administration people have had their engagements.
“We had our own little townhall and all that and we presented our findings to them, and we had major discussions. A lot of work has been done.
“I don’t know how much more that needs to be done,” he said when contacted today.
Zaharom also pointed out that the removal of the students from the committee was “stupid” as they have been working on this issue since the beginning.
There has been no talk about the students having a shelf life in the committee, he added.
“My question now is who are they (the ministry) going to bring in? Are they going to bring in students who are preservationists?” Zaharom said. – Malaysiakini