Stop bullying tactics
Writer: Lee Hwok Aun
Published: Fri, 29 Jun 2012
You only become a victim when Putrajaya wants to hear your screams.
That is the case, at least, if you are a student or parent of a student of Universiti Selangor (Unisel) or Kolej Universiti Islam Selangor (Kuis).
I still find it hard to wrap my head around the cruelty and pettiness of Higher Education Minister Khaled Nordin and the Higher Education Corporation Fund (PTPTN) in freezing loans to Unisel and Kuis students, two institutions under Pakatan Rakyat administration.
Is the heat wave inflicting this madness?
Khaled, together with Education Minister Muhyiddin Yassin, gloated that the reason was to let Pakatan Rakyat fulfil its mission to abolish PTPTN and provide free higher education.
Of course, Pakatan did not have the means, nor jurisdiction, to deliver on these promises, and Unisel was on the brink of liquidating some assets to tide over the stranded students.
The despicable attempt to score political points by taking students hostage drew widespread disapproval and rebuke from political figures, not just from Pakatan Rakyat representatives but also cooler Umno heads like Khairy Jamaluddin and Saifuddin Abdullah.
The freeze was cancelled within days of the issue becoming a public furore.
The fiasco has passed, students and parents are relieved, and life is back to normal.
I’m not so sure. It looks like normal just got redefined.
I don’t know what else to expect in the administration of public learning institutions when the higher education minister behaves like a bully and shows wanton disregard and sheer heartlessness toward students he has placed in jeopardy. Especially when he assures us that he “cannot predict what actions will be taken in the future,” if students and Pakatan persist in their campaign.
He eventually backed down this time, but only after triggering a backlash, and still couldn’t resist congratulating himself for rescuing Unisel from their troubles and highlighting the fact that Unisel’s asset sales wouldonly be a temporary solution.
Our higher education minister prefers to defend PTPTN by threatening rather than reasoning.
PTPTN’s chairperson Ismail Mohamed Said, for his part, clarified that “the minister overturned the ban as (they) didn’t want to make the students victims”.
And when did the students become victims? Apparently, it dawned on them when they got calls from parents pleading for an end to the PTPTN cut, which would halt their children’s studies.
The statement insinuates that the students were paying the penalty of the Selangor state government’s inability to pay their fees. Never mind that federal government oversees higher education and purposely caused this crisis.
The only time the federal government recognises victims, it seems, is when ministers unplug their ears and see a glorious opportunity to step in as saviour.
I would like to think, and retain optimism, that students can grasp this bad faith and conniving scheme.
But I dread to think what actions that might be taken to smother dissent. Will PTPTN loan recipients have to sign loyalty oaths? Will
individuals be targeted instead of collective student bodies?
I would also like to think that these will not happen.
I am not fully persuaded that PTPTN should be abolished, certainly not without a deeper analysis of its problems and possible solutions.
It is not operating well and clearly in need of reform, particularly with regard to private institutions.
The current state of the fund and oversight by MOHE do not inspire much confidence.
PTPTN operates too much in isolation from the realities students face; the official stock answer to students’ complaints of heavy debt is “you borrow, you pay” without examining whether increases in fees and education expenses are warranted.
The minister’s zeal to freeze loans has not been matched by fervour to freeze tuition fees.
PTPTN also requires too little of the institutions that profit from the fees paid through the loans it administers, with no clear framework for institutions to couple receiving loan funds with offering scholarships, grants or jobs for students, or guidelines for reimbursement should the institution be negligent in over-enrolling classes or over-charging fees.
I have not heard any such issues and options being debated.
Umno-BN’s position seems to be PTPTN, take it as it is, or leave it.
Pakatan’s stance: dump it.
We can do better in laying out the options. To proceed, though, the onus is on federal higher education authorities to stop bullying and start listening sincerely.