In a newly published book, former education minister Maszlee Malik has described how attempts to guarantee academic freedom hit a roadblock with then-prime minister Dr Mahathir Mohamad.
In his book “Memori Bukan Memoir”, Maszlee said one of his goals during his tenure was to guarantee academic freedom, allowing lecturers to air their views on sensitive topics by amending regulations under Act 605, a law on discipline in statutory bodies.
He said the amendments to the regulations could be made through a ministerial order by the prime minister. He said he met Mahathir after discussions on the matter with the Public Services Commission.
“I’m not sure what was (Mahathir’s) further action because I did not see any seriousness on his part over the issue. We are also aware that AUKU, which restricts academic freedom, was the fruit of his labour when he was education minister at the time,” he said.
AUKU is the Malay acronym for the Universities and University Colleges Act which was among several laws Pakatan Harapan had promised to repeal in its 2018 election manifesto.
The law, enacted in 1971, was amended in 1975 under Mahathir when he was the education minister, and banned students in both public and private universities from taking part in active politics or in protests.
Maszlee added that Mahathir was not a fan of academic freedom during his first tenure in the top post and even when he became prime minister for a second time with PH.
He said what academia wanted was simply an environment where higher education institutions could be livened with debates and discourse.
“Unfortunately, after the government changed in March 2020, there seems to be no progress on this front,” Maszlee said.
The Perikatan Nasional government had stated they were not interested in abolishing AUKU or replacing it with a better act. As for Act 605 and academic freedom, the higher education minister and her deputy gave insubstantial answers in the Dewan Rakyat “and there seemed to be no direction on the matter from them”. – FMT