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Debate on the Universities and University Colleges (Amendment) Bill, 2012

Debate on the Universities and University Colleges (Amendment) Bill, 2012

[This speech was not presented because the Deputy Speaker called on the Deputy Minister to wind up the debate after several speeches from West Malaysian MPs. The Speaker refused my request to have a Sarawak voice on this issue. When that failed, my request to take the floor for a mere 5 minutes was also disallowed]

Clause 4(b) of the UUCA Bill provides:

“The Yang di-Pertuan Agong may … authorize the establishment of any higher educational institution having the status of a University, whatever its name or style, if he is satisfied that it is expedient in the national interest and that such higher educational institution should be established.”

For and on behalf of Sarawak, I wish to raise some important issues under the UUCA Bill.

1. Sarawak has 3 universities, 2 in Kuching, one in Miri. In that sense, Sarawakians are rather deprived of education opportunities at the tertiary level. We have students who are enrolled in Malaya and Sabah, and in overseas universities.

With a population of 2.6 million, there is room for more universities in Sarawak.

However, what is more important is that we need quality universities which will meet the aspirations of parents and students alike. Our universities must churn out students who are capable of charting the country’s future and be genuine masters of tomorrow. The question is whether we have the institution and the system to churn out smart, capable graduates?

The BN Government is acutely aware that we do not have a single university which is in Times Higher Education (THE) 400 top world university ranking in 2011/12.

In the QS 200 World University Rankings 2011/12, we saw University of Malaya making to the top 200 Top Universities moving 40 places to 167 compared to 2010. In the QS World University Rankings 2011/12 released in September, four other Malaysian universities slid down the rankings – University Kebangsaan Malaysia (UKM) ranked 279 this year compared to 263 in 2010; Universiti Sains Malaysia (USM) ranked 335 (309 last year); Universiti Putra Malaysia (UPM) ranked 358 (319 last year) and Universiti Teknologi Malaysia (UTM) at between 401 and 450 (365 last year).

For admission into world top universities, we are not doing better than Vietnam, when no Malaysian is admitted into Harvard which shared the 2nd spot in the THE ranking with Stanford.

The Malaysian BN Government should reassess what has gone wrong with the quality of our universities. The system must be completely revamped. We are far behind other top Asian universities in the THE 400 World University Ranking 2011/12. These include University of Tokyo (Japan – 30), University of Hong Kong (HK – 34), National University of Singapore (Singapore – 40), Peking University (China – 49), Kyoto University (Japan – 52), Pohang University of Science and Technology (S.Korea – 53), Hong Kong University of Science and Technology (Hong Kong – 62), Tsinghua University (China – 71), Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology (South Korea – 94), Tokyo Institute of Technology (Japan – 108), Osaka University (Japan – 119), Tohoku University (Japan – 120), Seoul National University (South Korea -124), Chinese University of Hong Kong (Hong Kong – 151), National Taiwan University (Taiwan – 154), Nanyang Technological University (Singapore – 169), University of Science and Technology of China (China – 192), City University of Hong Kong (Hong Kong – 193)

2. The rankings of the THE universities from China show that there is no reason for the Government to be slow in recognizing degrees from top universities there. It is a grave insult to Malaysian parents and students alike when, only because of the pending General Elections, the BN Government is taking steps to recognize 146 universities from China. The Government should not please Chinese parents for political expediency only.

The insult is more grave when these universities from China recognize as entry requirements the United Education Certificates (UEC) from the 64 Independent Chinese Secondary Schools in the country but the Malaysian Government does not see it fit to recognize UEC even after about 50 years of nation building.

3. Though having 3 universities in Sarawak, there is not much for Sarawakians to glean about. Of these, only UniMAS is locally established. But it is not in the top 400 Top University ranking. Even the Sarawak Government had not been able to give me its ranking when asked.

4. There is no university in Sibu, though it is a well-known fact that parents in Sibu form the biggest proportion of parents in Sarawak sending their children to receive university education overseas. This means that there will be loss of foreign exchange from Sibu. In many cases, many graduates stay back in foreign countries, causing severe brain drain from Sibu. Having a university in Sibu is therefore in the national interest, considering that it is the 3rd largest town in Sarawak and serves a hinterland of over half a million population.

5. During the Sibu by-election in 2010, the Government promised to elevate Kolej Laila Taib to become a university college in 2012. We welcome a university college in Sibu, but we should not elevate a college to become a university just because of a by-election. We need a university where students will receive good education, and able to find suitable employment after they have graduated. A university college is of no use to us if it has not the quality and accreditation and is elevated from a college in order to fish for votes.

6. On 21st December 2001, the SUPP/BN promised a university in Sibu. The news appeared in the front pages of all local newspapers in Sarawak. It was reported that the SUPP leaders (the late Robert Lau and Wong Soon Koh and others) had signed a Memorandum of Understanding with the University of South Australia that the said University will set up a branch campus in Sibu. The BN leaders in Sibu also promised that the students of United College of Sarawak (UCS) would become the first batch of graduates from this University of South Australia’s Sibu campus. As a result of this representation, many Sibu parents sent their children to UCS. It turns out that this was a fat lie by the SUPP. The lie was exposed when in an email to me, the University of South Australia said that it had no intention to establish a campus in Sibu. The parents were cheated by the SUPP. The students who enrolled in UCS never received the degrees from University of South Australia. Many even stopped their studies and took up new courses in other universities. These lies cannot be forgiven.

7. In the 2008 Parliamentary election, the SUPP/BN promised Sarikei voters that TAR College would be built in Bintangor in 2008, after winning the election. It was another lie to cheat Sarikei voters. They won the election but they dishonoured their promise. They dishonoured and sold their integrity, if there was any left after their broken promise on University of South Australia in 2001.

The point that I wish to make is this. If the Government is sincere in enacting this UUCA Bill, then it should do some soul searching to ensure quality and integrity in these institutions of higher learning.

As a Member of Parliament for Sibu, I am duty bound to ask the BN Government to honour its promise made 11 years ago to establish a university in Sibu immediately. Clearly, the BN Government owes the voters from Sarikei the TAR College too.

I ask the BN Government not to be forgetful, though it never forgets to cheat people of their votes.

8. Students who are able to think for themselves are assets to the country. University students should be allowed room to be perceptive. The country should be concerned with producing bright and able thinking graduates and not book worms to sing to the tune of the BN.

I am totally disgusted learning of the attack on the student protesters who camped out at Dataran Merdeka. The attack on them by a gang of 50 thugs is a shameful act of violence against defenceless students. Luckily these students did not retaliate, otherwise another dark chapter in Malaysian history would have been written.

These students have the freedom and the right to express under the federal Constitution. The Malaysian Government should not allow thugs to intimidate them in order to stop their protest calling for PTPTN (National Higher Education Fund Corporation) loans to be written off.

It is disconcerting that the thugs attacked under the nose of the police. When thugs were allowed to go on a rampage at Dataran Merdeka against students, the Government must answer whether forces bigger than the thugs were involved.

University students should be allowed freedom to express, even political views, both in and out of campus. That is the reason for clause 5 of the Bill which amends s.15 of the Universities and University Colleges Act, 1971. The amendment allows students to become members of a society, organization, body or group of persons, including a political party. But what use is the amendment if they are not allowed to express their views?

The Government should bring to book those thugs who resorted to anti-democratic tactics to derail the rights of able-thinking Malaysian students to freedom of expression. The Government should stop any activity that is designed to thwart or disrupt the lawful activities of students.

19.4.2012

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