Review the Universities and University Colleges Act as part of the efforts to create an environment for excellence in education

Media Statement
by Dr Tan Seng Giaw

(Kuala Lumpur, Tuesday):  In the last four articles, we have propounded our vision, not only of replacing the Review Committee with the Royal Commission, the change of attitude and building 35 universities, but also the choice of languages in these universities. Today, we concentrate on the atmosphere in the campuses. What do we need to make our education world-class?

Are there laws to deal with security in universities in other countries? Yes, there are. For example, in 1989, the American Congress passed the Crime Awareness and Campus Security Act following the death of Jeanne Clery at Lehigh University in 1986. In 1998, this act was amended and renamed The Jeanne Clery Act. This is not for the curtailment of freedom of students and staff members unlike the Universities and University Colleges Act.

Besides crimes, student and staff member freedom, we have to tackle various forms of extremism, especially after 911 in New York in 2001 and the Bali explosion in 2002. The names such as Al-Qaeda, Jemaah Islamiah (JI), Majlis Mujahidin Indonesia (MMI), Kumpulan Militan Malaysia (KMM, previously known as Kumpulan Mujahideen Malaysia) loom large. Have they infiltrated our universities? To what extent are our universities crucibles for terrorism? A Royal Commission will be able to get to the roots of all forms of extremism.

Commenting on the scourge of terrorism in his 2003 New Year message, the Prime Minister Dato’ Seri Dr Mahathir Mohamad said that unless the root causes were identified and eliminated, the end to terrorism would not be in sight in the near future.

Then, the Prime Minister referred to those Malaysians whom he thought wanted to resort to terrorism, by highlighting this country as unlike other nations with Governments that had failed to bring about development or overcome poverty, nor has the Malaysian Government used violence to obtain power.


Although the Government prattles about eliminating root causes of terrorism, development, eradicating poverty and not using violence to obtain power, we often find it lacking in transparency and accountability. We feel that it has done scarcely enough including the identification and elimination of root causes of terrorism. There is not even a white paper on the state of terrorism in Malaysia.

We don’t know about terrorism within and outside the universities. All we hear is the arrest of KMM members and Dr Mahathir revealed the organization as planning to create an Islamic State uniting Malaysia, Indonesia and the Philippines.

Meanwhile, foreign media portray Malaysia as a place with terrorist connection or a ‘terrorist centre’. The Government denies it. Let us prove to the world that this country is free from terrorism. Lim Kit Siang has proposed a three-point strategy to eradicate this international perception, namely a National Round-Table Conference, a White Paper and a deliberate anti-terrorism programme.

Hitherto, some 60 KMM suspects including Nik Adli, the son of Kelantan Menteri Besar Datuk Nik Aziz, have been locked up under ISA. How many fugitives are there? In what way are they linked with JI and al-Qaeda?

By October last year, it was already Phase IV of the Internal Security Act (ISA) arrest against KMM. By 27 November, 2002, the police detained another three men with alleged links to KMM. However, the Inspector-General of Police Tan Sri Norian Mai did not identify those detained, insisting: ”Sometimes when we carry out these arrests, we are not obliged to inform the public due to the nature of investigations.”

We have heard that Yazid Sufaat, the former army captain detained under ISA as an alleged KMM operative, hosted three people linked to the al-Qaeda network, two of whom later took part in the 911 attack. Yazid was said to have been interviewed by US Central Intelligence Agency officers in Kamunting detention centre for hosting the third person – Zacarias Moussaoui. The latter has been charged in the US for his part in the 911. As a US-trained chemist, Yazid has been reported as having bought four tonnes of ammonium nitrate that could be used to make bombs.

How many KMM suspects connected to universities have been arrested or are on the run? For instance, media reported on 16 February, 2002, that Universiti Teknologi Malayisa (UTM) lecturers Roshelmy Md Sharif, Idris Salim and Dr Abdullah Daud of the Science, Engineering and Geoinformation Faculty were among 23 people detained for their alleged involvement in KMM. By, 27 September, 2002, Wan Min Wan Mat another UTM lecturer thought to be Johor KMM chief had been picked up whereas his colleagues Dr Azahari Husin and Shamsul Bahri Hussein, Abdul Razak @ Farouk Abdul Hamid, Amran @ Henry Mansor, Mohd Rafi Udin, Zulkipli Marzuki, Noor Din Mohd Top and Zulkefli @ Musa bin And Hir were still at large. There are rewards ranging from RM10,000 to RM30,000 for information that could lead to the detention of KMM fugitives.


We require effective laws to eradicate terrorism and other destructive activities among students. The Government is using ISA for all purposes, detaining suspects at will. This is controversial. The Opposition feels that the Government is abusing ISA.

When Dr Mahathir was the Education Minister in the mid-70s last century, he was responsible for the UCCA to control student dissent that culminated in the campus unrest. The act befell on the students like the sword of Democles. But, the 10-year Education Development Blueprint does not mention the effects of UCCA on the atmosphere in the campuses. Talking about reform in education, we must address this aspect.

Before the 1970s, the students were boisterous. They flocked to debating chambers. They took part in numerous exciting activities. They went for challenges including demonstrations. Myriad opinions were expressed and dissenting voices were heard, so much so that the then Prime Minister, the late Tun Hussein, was getting jittery. The Government passed the UCCA and used ISA to detain students.

The UCCA, among other things, provides for stricter prohibition on students and staff members, power of Vice-Chancellor and disciplinary board. For example, no person, while he is a student of the University, shall be a member of, or shall in any manner associate with, any society, political party, trade union or any organization, body or group of persons whatsoever, whether or not it is established under any law, whether it is in the University or outside the University, and whether it is in Malaysia or outside Malaysia, except as may be provided by or under the Constitution, or except as may be approved in advance in writing by the Vice-Chancellor.

Thus, the act results in stuffy milieu, making students and staff members wary of challenging activities. In this modern era, how can it be amended to create a better milieu for all?

We require an open atmosphere to let students express their creative and enquiring minds. We don’t want them to be terrorists or criminals. But, we want them to explore. We like them to take part in non-terrorist, non-criminal and non-subversive activities. Why is it that such things are not happening in the campuses?

There are leaders who believe in using UCCA to eradicate extremists and other undesirable elements. They think that this is the only way to keep the campuses peaceful. Yes, we must get rid of extremists and other deviants. Without UCCA, will the campuses be in chaos?

It is time that the Prime Minister studies the effects of UCCA on our universities in the past nearly three decades. The Royal Commission can be useful here. Is it the act that dampens the fervour of students? Are there other factors that keep them silent, minding their own business?


* Dr Tan Seng Giaw, DAP National Vice-Chairman and MP for Kepong