No Umno gag order on debates, says Saifuddin

Deputy Higher Education Minister Saifuddin Abdullah said today that Umno has not issued any gag orders on party members from debating with opposition politicians.

This, he said, was despite Prime Minister Najib Abdul Razak's statement that debates were not part of the culture as a whole for the country's political system.

"I think that was the prime minister's opinion but there was no reprimand, there was no gag order, so I don't think my debate with PAS vice president Salahuddin Ayub would be the last," he said in a UndiMalaysia talk attended by some 30 youths in Bangsar today.

NONESaifuddin (left) was responding to a question from the floor on whether his recent debate with Salahuddin could be considered the last because of the premier's statement.

Earlier, Saifuddin had discussed with the youths about the state of the country’s local varsities, pointing out the need to appoint their vice-chancellors from among academics who were truly excellent in their respective fields.

This, he said, could be achieved by a fiercely independent search committee in which shortlisted candidates are debated and its panellists must justify the appointment.

“It’s the same even in the debates where the chief adjudicator must explain why team A won and not team B, that is why you must accept that debate is our culture,” he said.

He added that five public universities have already been granted autonomy and the Higher Education Ministry is working to expand it to the remaining 15 government-owned varsities.

“As far as the ministry is concerned, we are pushing for universities to have autonomy but what slows us down are the central agencies such as the Finance Ministry and Economic Planning Unit.

“Sometimes civil servants are reluctant to impart the powers they have when it comes to managing money but I’ve told them if you don’t trust professors (who run the university) then who else can you trust?” he said.

‘Activities should be of service and advocacy’

He added that university students should not only be occupied with regular campus activities but the activities should also be of service to the community and is of advocacy in nature to spur students’ role in activism.

However, Saifuddin acknowledged that there had been unfortunate incidents where students who were critical and spoke out against the university establishment were ridiculed and victimised.

Saifuddin called on the public to support reforms to the country’ higher learning institutions, promising that the situation will improve.

“The dynamics of democracy is that there is always push and pull but there are people in government who are passionate about education and are pushing certain agendas.

“I see there is a lot of energy outside the government especially with the students, academia and other stakeholders, these voices have to go on, it’s just a matter of time, things will get better,” he said.

No comments: