THIS letter refers to an opinion piece, “Students’ Union allows for greater empowerment”, by Dr Zaid Omar (NST, April 5).
The Education Ministry is partnering with International Islamic University Malaysia (IIUM) in the Students’ Union pilot project.
The call for proposals was done at the beginning of the semester (February) and eight proposals were presented at IIUM in Gombak on April 15. None of the proposals was accepted.
It is alarming that only eight proposals were submitted and presented, considering that this project will be implemented throughout the nation.
When surveyed, it was found that there were conditions imposed on who could submit the proposals from IIUM.
Evidently, even its first step negates the spirit of establishing the Students’ Union, which should be from the students, for the students.
Zaid, the student development director at the Department of Higher Education, had written in his column that with a Students’ Union, students could:
INDEPENDENTLY decide on activities to be organised by clubs and societies;
HAVE representation in university management committees and Senate meetings to advocate for their interests;
HAVE access to their finances and accounts; and,
HAVE complete autonomy in student affairs, including campus elections.
He said these actions were supposed to dispense “greater power and freedom for the students, but they must realise that these come with a greater sense of responsibility and accountability” and “they must be expected to be held to a higher standard of transparency, competency, and integrity, as it is applied to any other organisation outside the university”.
These are ideals and aspirations that are parallel to the notion of a perfect democracy.
The problem with these idealistic aspirations is that it ignores the reality that students have been silenced, spoon-fed, and intellectually oppressed for the longest time.
At this stage, university students are not empowered enough to be empowered by the Students’ Union.
More action is needed from the ministry before a stakeholders’ meeting to establish a Students’ Union.
First, we need to treat Students’ Union as a civil society organisation and build up its capacity so it can reach everyone.
The sense of responsibility and accountability is not developed when power and freedom are granted to students.
This is especially so in Malaysia where freedom of expression is in its infancy.
A way to address this is by expanding the capacity of students through workshops.
This can mitigate the lack of communication about a Students’ Union.
From the proposals presented, it can be seen that students failed to grasp the idea of a Students’ Union, how much power it holds and how to make it sustainable.
The workshops are crucial for the goals of a Students’ Union to be communicated to all, and most importantly, for problems to be identified so that action can be taken.
The workshop will expose students to mechanisms that empower a Students’ Union.
Despite the fact that universities may no longer fund students’ activities, they should make clear to students the expectations of setting up a Students’ Union.
After all, a perfect participatory democracy exists only when citizens are aware and informed of initiatives and policies.
Without addressing the need for capacity building, transparency, competency, and integrity will not exist in our society.
NUR SYAHIRAH KHANUM
Final-year student, International Islamic University Malaysia