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Mustapha should quash the one-semester suspension of UPM student Lee Song Yong and send a clear message to all universities not to be single-minded in the national objective to create a world-class university system

Media Statement (2)         
by Lim Kit Siang  

(Parliament, Friday): Higher Education Minister Datuk Mustapha Mohamad should quash the one-semester suspension of second-year computer science student Lee Song Yong by Universiti Putra Malaysia (UPM) and send a clear message to all universities to be single-minded in the national objective to create a world-class university system.

The national contribution and challenge of all universities and university administrators in the country is to achieve a world-class university education system without which Malaysia cannot succeed in the transition and transformation from a production-based to a knowledge-based innovative economy.

It is simply outrageous that the UPM should be obsessed with the pettiness of Little Napoleons to penalize independent-spirited students when all universities and university officials should be united by one objective - how to reverse the free fall of international rankings of Malaysian universities confirmed by the latest Times Higher Education Supplement (THES) World’s Top 200 Universities Rankings 2007 which demonstrate that no Malaysian university is competitive internationally.

What is Lee Song Yong’s offence?

On Aug 22, Lee was stopped by security guards at the university’s exit and his notebook was seized on grounds that he was being investigated for being a member of an illegal student organization.

Lee initially refused to cooperate because the campus officers were not in their uniforms which led to the university accusing him of obstructing its officers from executing their duty.

In the background was the unfair and one-sided rigging of campus student elections, orchestrated by the university student affairs department in cahoots with the campus security personnel.

Should such a minor and trivial matter result in the empanelling of a disciplinary proceeding, where Lee was denied legal representation, leading to his university suspension for six months? Or even the arrogant and contemptuous dismissal of the SUHAKAM appeal for a suspension of the disciplinary proceedings?

One would have thought from the university’s response that Lee was guilty of some heinous crime, like being a member of some militant terrorist student outfit planning to throw bombs in the campus – when it was nothing of the sort whatsoever.

Lee’s guilt was being too idealistic and independent-minded in wanting to work for change in the university to foster student activism and academic freedom.

Is that a virtue or a vice, or even a crime?

In May this year, Deputy Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak said that members of the MSC International Advisory Panel (IAP), many of whom are renowned academicians and industry experts, had made the observation at their annual meeting that Malaysian students lack a “questioning culture” and are too passive – which are not the qualities to propel Malaysia to become a dynamic and responsive knowledge-based innovative economy in the era of IT and globalization.

Clearly Lee does not fit into this unquestioning, unthinking student mould which was the lament of the IAP, and such students like Lee should be tapped and encouraged instead of being penalized to kill their independent spirits, which will only drive more students to become zombies.

University security personnel are to protect the personal safety of lecturers and students and security of their property in the campus but not to become their minders or to be their “thought police”.

The Lee Song Yong case is as much a test of the preparedness and seriousness of UPM and Malaysian universities to achieve a competitive position internationally as well as a test of Mustapha’s vision, leadership and commitment as Higher Education Minister to create the requisite academic culture and environment for the public universities in Malaysia to attain world-class status.


* Lim Kit Siang, Parliamentary Opposition Leader, MP for Ipoh Timur & DAP Central Policy and Strategic Planning Commission Chairman

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