Higher Education director-general Datin Paduka Dr Siti Hamisah Tapsir officiating the closing of the Establishment of IIUM Student Union Conference in April.

HIGHER education in Malaysia serves approximately 1.2 million students, whose solidarity would create a powerful and unstoppable voice in this country.

Thus, the establishment of a Students’ Union will further empower the students voices as the representative body enjoys greater autonomy in managing its own offices, funding, services, activities and campaigns.

The International Islamic University Malaysia (IIUM) is moving towards establishing its very own students’ union. It has been selected as the first university in the country to spearhead the body in December last year.

The Ministry of Education has given the mandate to the university and the ministry is also spearheading the Students’ Union Establishment Committee, which comprises a diverse membership including three deputy vice-chancellors, a policy researcher, a lawyer, two prominent activists, and a member of parliament.

IIUM Students’ Union Working Committee chairman Assistant Professor Dr Mahyuddin Daud said the idea of establishing the Students’ Union was one of the current government’s manifesto, which is to empower student voices.

He said taking along the spirit, within the university itself a working committee was set up consists of a number of students, academic staff and student leaders from various bodies (registered or unregistered), as they want their voices to be heard by all parties.

“There are some student bodies which are not registered with the university, but we still consider calling them in into the committee. So that they know what goes on in the process of establishing the committee.

“Since January this year, several plans have been designed including Students’ Union Town Hall on Feb 13. The Office of the Deputy Rector of Student Affairs has organised this town hall on the establishment of the Students’ Union, where almost 1,000 students attended the town hall with full house.

“It started at 8pm and ended almost 1am because of the heated question and answer session as we are trying to acknowledge students activism and idealism to see if there is a keen interest towards this movement.

“The following month in March and April, we organised a Speakers Corner programme because we know that it is one of the ways for students to express themselves.

“There are two phases of speakers corner where student leaders as well as members of the groups and movements were given the chance to speak and express the ideas on the Students’ Union framework that they would like it to be.

“Hence, the proposals by student bodies with deadline submission of one month. With the call for proposal, we prepare a proper guideline on what to be included in the proposal, for example, research data, nature of organisation, structure, members, election system, authority and limitations, as well as literature review.

“We don’t want this to be just an exercise and vision without execution. We want the students to be guided within the framework, meaning that they propose these things with proper research.

“This is basically what we want from our students as well as student leaders that they must show they are mature enough and their original idea is about self regulation,” he added.

Mahyuddin said when the Students’ Union has been established, students will run their own student body with minimum interference from the top management of the university.

“That’s the idea but of course models of Students’ Union ranges from university to university. So what the ministry is trying to do now is ensure that they won’t dictate any models but giving the options for universities to propose whatever models they want.

“For IIUM, this is such an honour. Hopefully by September, I am able to come up with a plan to establish the first Students’ Union. In fact we have sat down with a panel of judges to evaluate the proposals. We are not looking for a winner but for the best ideas.

“For example, if they have a similar ideas then we will merge those ideas,” he added.

Mahyuddin said his role as the committee chairman is to bring these ideas and proposals to the top management for approval, and of course, certain rules of the university will have to be amended.

“So, because we want to embrace the spirit of student empowerment, and to empower their voices, what we intend to do is in the next upcoming university management committee meeting, I will bring the student representative to present their proposals to the members of the management including our director.

“We want to make it clear and highlight that this is what our students want. So, it does not come from staff but from the students themselves.

“They still have time to polish their ideas and make it better. And hopefully, our role here is to assist and ensure that what they do here is properly guided, and can be implemented,” he said.

Students’ Union will not be the same as Student Representative Council (Majlis Perwakilan Pelajar or MPP) because there is a new element of student autonomy been given.

“Typically, it will not be the same because MPP follows a strictly regulated under proper monitoring and a proper system, while Students’ Union allows them to explore, to grow and of course to be responsible for their own affairs.

“So once Students’ Union is established, MPP will no longer be relevant,” he said.