THE STUDENT FRONTS’ PROTEST AGAINST THE MINISTRY OF HIGHER EDUCATION (MOHE)
- Withdraw the Guidelines for Entertainment Activities (Concerts) and the notice banning concerts in higher education institutions under the Ministry of Higher Education (MOHE) 2023
- Restore the UUCA Abolishment Technical Committee as soon as possible.
- Empower the freedom of expression and academic freedom of students and academics.
- Strengthen financial autonomy and provide financial autonomy to students.
- Uphold students’ right to freedom of association.
Recently, the Ministry of Higher Education (MOHE) has introduced the Guidelines for Entertainment Activities (Concerts) in Higher Education Institutions under the MOHE 2023 issued to all public and private universities in Malaysia. The provisions in these guidelines are absurd, with many unreasonable prohibitions and regulations. This decision was also made without taking into account the views of any of the university’s stakeholders. The student fronts strongly protest against these guidelines and calls for this Guideline to be retracted by the MOHE with immediate effect, and with this, the University and University Colleges Act 1971(UUCA) must be repealed.
2.0 OUR DEMANDS
2.1 Withdraw the Guidelines for Entertainment Activities (Concerts) and the notice banning concerts in higher education institutions under the Ministry of Higher Education (MOHE) 2023.
After discovering that the university management has received instructions from the MOHE that these guidelines will take effect immediately, we have found news that the MOHE intends to revise these guidelines and despite being the Minister of Higher Education, YB Khaled Nordin has never approved the guidelines. The first issue here is about the conflicting narrative between the university management and the MOHE. The second issue is that students as stakeholders of the universities, our opinions were never obtained before such guidelines were issued. We would like to criticize the MOHE for being irresponsible and unprofessional in issuing such Guidelines.
As for the issue with the Guidelines itself, we would also like to point out four main reasons why these guidelines are absurd and unreasonable.
2.1.1 Restrictions on the rights and freedoms of university stakeholders.
For example, in clause 4.0 together with clause 16.0, it is stated that concerts must obtain the approval of the Student Union or Student Representative Council of the university concerned. However, the university management and the Department of Higher Education (DHE) under the MOHE still have the absolute power to cancel the event before or on the date of the event itself if it is deemed to “bring negative effects in various aspects”.
Furthermore, in clauses 5.4 and 14.1, all promotional and publicity materials including posters, banners, buntings, backdrops, wall of fame, portals, and also digital materials such as those in social media must obtain confirmation and approval from the university’s Corporate Communications Center.
This is contrary to the “student autonomy” that the MOHE has promised on several occasions. The MOHE needs to keep its promise and allow students to have a platform to grow and develop as future leaders of our country.
2.1.2 Deprivation of the student’s autonomy as an individual.
Clause 6.0 states the time limitation or constraint on any student body when organizing a concert, that if an event of the concert is approved to start at a certain time, it cannot be postponed at all, even if the VIP are still yet to arrive or if there is an unforeseen emergency situation. Exceptions are only given to VVIPs who are members of the royal family. No event should be forced to start unless and until the organizer deems it suitable to start, and this varies for each different genre of event. The student fronts believe that student activities should not adhere to such unreasonably stringent rules.
Clauses 8.0 and 9.0 have limited the clothing of artists on stage, as well as the committees and participants involved in the event itself. Examples include male artists being prohibited from wearing jewellery or shorts during performances or even during rehearsals; male artists that are not part of the university must tie their long hair, and male artists from the universities themselves are not allowed to have long hair; the prohibition of cross-dressing, all without exception even for cultural performances; and clothing that is considered “scandalous” is also prohibited.
In clauses 8.0, 9.0, 10.0, 12.0, and 13.0, there are restrictions on activities that can be performed on stage. For example, no physical contact is allowed between dancers of the opposite sex; there can be no “excessive movement” for the dance; the music genre and lyrics, as well as the LED screen display, have to be approved by the “advisor” of the event.
These provisions clearly violate the personal freedom of individuals enshrined in the Federal Constitution of Malaysia, especially Article 5: personal freedom and Article 10: freedom of speech and expression. Students should be respected as equal individuals, and they should have equal rights under the law. Differentiating students because “they are not part of society” is an unfair and unjustified statement.
2.1.3 Provisions and use of words with vague meanings.
In clause 5.5, event organizers are given the responsibility to ensure that concert performances do not “encourage the extreme behaviour of artists, audience or secretariats” and “do not contain elements that can divide racial unity”. In clauses 7.0, 8.0, and 9.0, artists who are invited cannot be “controversial” artists, and they cannot “bring harm or damage the image of the university”, dress “flashy”, or perform “charming” actions. In clauses 10.2 and 12.3, the lyrics and performance of the artist, as well as the symbolism displayed should also not touch the “sensitivity of Malaysians”.
These words are either not defined in the guidelines themselves or the definitions given in the guidelines are vague as to what is considered “controversial”, “incites to extreme behaviour” and so on. It is unfair to then take action against promoters who are not clear about the context of the following provisions if they “breach” the guidelines.
2.1.4 Infiltration of conservatism values into Malaysian universities.
In clause 11.0, the separation of spectator seats becomes very redundant. First is the strict separation between male and female audiences with an exception being given to “family audience”. Mosh pits are also not permitted and permanent seating, without exception, is provided for spectators regardless of the nature of the activity. Organizers are also required to maintain their spectator “behaviour” at all times.
Other examples include clause 8.0, where male artists are prohibited from wearing shorts and jewellery on stage and dressing like the opposite sex is not allowed; and in clause 9.0, any physical contact between backup dancers of the opposite sex is prohibited, and the dance must be “not excessive in movement”.
Laws like this are personal laws under Sharia that must be followed by Muslims only. However, the clauses in these Guidelines apply to those of a different religion as well, and this is contrary to Article 11 in the Federal Constitution which guarantees the freedom to profess and practice other religions other than Islam. Islam is the official religion of Malaysia, but the use of Sharia law is limited to personal law, and no one should be forced to adhere to and practice that religion.
2.2 Restore the UUCA Abolishment Technical Committee as soon as possible.
In this UUCA Abolishment Technical Committee, we demand that its members consist of legal experts, student activists and social activists who have relevant experience, legal researchers in relevant fields and so on. Among the authoritative figures are Prof. Shad Saleem Faruqi, Prof. Edmund Terence Gomez, and Prof. Azmi Sharom. This is to get a more comprehensive view of the act. For your information, this committee has successfully produced six comprehensive policy papers and also affirmed the values and principles of academic freedom, university autonomy and student autonomy. The policy papers are related to governance systems, ombudsmen, institutionalized allocation and financial systems, service level agreements, academic professions, and universities and higher education institutions. However, this effort did not continue after the fall of the Pakatan Harapan (PH) government in 2020.
2.3 Empower the freedom of expression and academic freedom of students and academics.
Under section 15(2)(b) AUKU, students are not allowed to join any organization designated by LPU that is not suitable for the interest and well-being of the student or the university. Under section 15(3)(b), students are not allowed to support or sympathize with or oppose any party that is determined by LPU to be inappropriate for the interests and well-being of the student or the university.
These two provisions give broad and vague powers to the LPU in determining what is meant as “not suitable for the interests and well-being of the students or the university”. Although universities in Malaysia have always stated that they are willing to train and produce female students who have critical and independent thinking, the UUCA has empowered universities to restrict academic activities on the grounds that such activities are “inappropriate”.
Under section 15(4), students are only allowed to make a statement if the statement is related to their studies or research in a seminar, symposium or similar event. Therefore, section 15(4) has imposed quite strict restrictions where students are only allowed to voice their opinions in relatively limited circumstances. We are of the view that freedom of speech and academics should not be prematurely restricted by additional laws, supposedly the higher education institutions are established with the aspiration of producing pillars of the country who think critically and are able to voice opinions in a principled manner.
In terms of Higher Education Institutions (HEI) staff and academics, the freedom of expression and academic freedom of this group is also restricted. In general, the UUCA does not provide academic freedom for HEI staff and academics. This can be seen in the content of the Statutory Bodies (Discipline and Surcharge) Act 2000 (Act 605) where the disciplinary rules can be found under the Second Schedule of Act 605. An officer must give full allegiance to the government according to Regulation 3; an official cannot make public statements that could harm the government’s policy, discredit the government and so on according to Rule 18. These provisions have restricted the freedom of speech of academics and administrators, and they are not allowed to voice their opinions about the government, nor give any information or explanation.
Therefore, we demand that the right and freedom of speech and academics must be guaranteed under the HEI. Students, like other members of Malaysian society, should enjoy the rights and freedom of expression guaranteed under the Federal Constitution.
2.4 Strengthen financial autonomy and provide financial autonomy to students.
Under section 15A of the UUCA, students are not allowed to collect or hold money. As a result, students always experience difficulties in organizing various activities, especially activities that involve high expenses. This is due to the slowness of the “e-procurement” system and the payment claim system through receipts in universities. If students want to pay through “e-procurement”, the merchant who offers the service can only get paid at least a few months after the service has been provided. Alternatively, students are forced to use their own money first before demanding payment from the university management using the original receipt. However, the university management’s slowness in processing student payment claims has caused students to bear a relatively high financial risk. Furthermore, this also opens up an opportunity for the university not to approve the expenses of student associations that are not respected by the administration.
Therefore, we demand that the right to manage the financial affairs of the student body be returned to the students. To ensure transparent financial management, the university may establish a regulatory body to review and audit the student body’s financial statements at the end of each financial year.
2.5 Uphold students’ right to freedom of association.
Under section 16 of the UUCA, the Vice-Chancellor is empowered to suspend or dissolve any organization, body and student group that, in the opinion of the Vice-Chancellor, may damage or cause harm to the interests or well-being of the university. However, such power is draconian because it empowers the Vice-Chancellor to decide to suspend or dissolve a student body without the need to conduct any investigation first.
Therefore, we demand that such draconian powers be abolished. On the other hand, any student body accused of carrying out illegal activities of the university should be investigated by the university and brought before an independent tribunal to make a decision.
Under section 15D of the UUCA, the Vice-Chancellor may, at his discretion, suspend a student who is accused of a registrable offence. Just like in section 16, such provisions give draconian powers to the Vice-Chancellor to make decisions without the necessary checks and balances.
Furthermore, the University Disciplinary Committee also cannot provide justice to the students as it should. It is clear from the case of Fahmi Zainol v Jawatankuasa Tatatertib Pelajar Universiti Malaya  10 CLJ 305, where the High Court ruled that the Studen Disciplinary Committee which was involved did not adhere to basic legal regulations and violated the human rights of the accused students. Therefore, we demand that the University Student Disciplinary Committee should be replaced with an independent Disciplinary Tribunal, consisting of individuals knowledgeable in the law, and most importantly, separating the roles of the prosecutor from the judge.
The student fronts criticize the MOHE for expanding its control over student activities and limiting student freedom as well as expanding conservative policies on campus. Strict prohibitions on this campus have never happened in history and this gives a clear sign that the MOHE has no intention of giving greater freedom to students. The sudden implementation these guidelines without prior notice and without obtaining students’ opinions, clearly shows that the amendment to the UUCA to restore student autonomy that was promised earlier seems to be just an act to divert students’ attention. We hereby call on the MOHE to withdraw these guidelines immediately, abolish the UUCA, and return the promised rights and autonomy to students and a progressive campus experience.
University of Malaya New Youth (UMANY)
University of Malaya New Youth (UMANY)
Kesatuan Mahasiswa Universiti Malaya Suara Siswa
Suara Siswa UM
Persatuan Bahasa Cina Universiti Malaya
Suara Rakyat Malaysia (SUARAM)
Pergerakan Tenaga Akademik Malaysia (GERAK)
Gerakan Pembebasan Akademik
KLSCAH Civil Rights Committee
Parti Sosialis Malaysia
Siti Kasim （Human rights lawyer）
Thomas Fann (Bersih Chairperson)
Ooi Kok Hin (Bersih Executive Director)
Ooi Guo Shen （Former President of Universiti Malaya Students’ Union）
Wong Yan Ke （Former president of UMANY/）
Persatuan Alumni UMANY
Malaysian Action for Justice and Unity (MAJU)
Youth Of Malaysia
Mahasiswa Demokratik Malaysia
Monash University Student Association (MUSA)
Taylor’s Chinese Society
Persatuan Matematik Universiti Malaya (UMMA)
Leo Club of Universiti Malaya
Universiti Malaya Actuarial and Financial Mathematics Society (UMACT)
Universiti Malaya International Students Association (UMISA)
Taekwondo WT UM
AIESEC in UM
Pasukan Gendang 24 Musim Universiti Malaya
Kung Fu Club University Malaya
Universiti Malaya Japanese Club
UM Lex Act
UM Toastmasters Club
Universiti Malaya Dancesport Club (UMDSC)
Southern University College Debate Club
Kelab Kesenian Persembahan Universiti Malaya (KKPUM)
Pasukan Debat Cina New Era
Universiti Malaya Data Analytics Club (UMDAC)
Teoh Beng Hock Trust for Democracy
SKL Nan Ann Youth Section
Selangor and Kuala Lumpur Hokkien Association Youth Section
Persatuan Alumni New Era
Justice for Sisters
Institut Demokrasi dan Emansipasi Anak Muda (IDEA)
UNDI18 (Persatuan Pengundi Muda)
Students Progressive Front UUM
Suara Siswa UUM
Malaysia Youths and Students Evolution
Student Progressive Front UUM
Suara Siswa UUM
New Era University College Media Studies Society
The Malacca Chinese Assembly Hall Youth Section
Youth Bureau of Negeri Sembilan Chine
Preevena Devi Jayabalan
Yong Li Yan
Dennis Tan Guo An
Leo Ik Hau (Southern University College)
Mervin Tan Wei Hong
Lim Jin Hang
Chan Jun Ye
Choy Meng Hooi
Leong Mae Jern
Lee Yong Xing (Southern University College )
Jonathan Lee Rong Sheng
Bowie Koh Chao Wei (Engineering Society of Universiti Malaya (ESUM))
Muhammad Faris bin Ahmad Faiz (President of Persatuan Komputer Universiti Malaya (PEKOM))
Pang Guo Liang (University Monash Malaysia)
Gan Wan Xuan (Southern University College (SUC))
Shari Tan Xin Wen
Liew Chien Xuan
Lee Jian Hong
Chan Yan Wei
Tan Chun Keat
Chuah Yee Rou