DISCLAIMER: Views expressed in this article are those of the author and they do not necessarily represent the position of UNM IGNITE.
Overall experience being a part of the University
I’ve been at this University since foundation back in 2017 and I’m currently in my second year. I would say that I have mostly enjoyed throughout my time here. UNM has provided me with the space to grow and try out new things that I have never thought of doing such as joining multiple clubs and societies. I even became a president for the society that I liked the most. However, while enjoying myself and exploring new things in this University, I have found several issues that I should shed light on, especially with regards to what I feel is not right, particularly looking into the Student Association
The Student Association
Most students might be familiar with the University’s Student Association (SA). However, based on the data of turnouts for the SA General Election, there is significant amount of students that are apathetic. Throughout my studies here, I have always wondered why this is the case. It is a known fact that the SA Executives, chosen and elected by the students, are paid with a monthly salary of RM 700. It is important to note, however, that the University uses the term ‘stipend’ rather than salary, probably to avoid any problems with the Malaysian Government as they claimed that international students are not allowed to ‘work’ in Malaysia.
While I do not have a problem with the SA Executives getting paid, seeing that they have a lot of work to be done based on their respective portfolios, I do however feel that some of them take the fact that they are paid for granted. The current SA President, for example, was required to leave the country for a certain amount of time. This is due to her visa being cancelled regarding her attendance issue as she failed to maintain the 80% attendance rate. When asked about it during the 44th Ordinary Student Council Meeting, she simply said that her attendance is none of anyone’s business. During the meeting, I secretly wondered if the 399 students who voted for her during the elections would be happy with that answer. As one of the 399 students, I was definitely not.
SA General Elections
Attendance issue aside, it seems that the same group of students are always the ones who are elected into office. For example, the current SA President was the SA Activities Officer for 2018/19, the elected President for 2020/21 is the current International Students Officer. In my opinion, allowing current SA executives to run for another position discourages other students from running for the election as they would get the impression that the incumbents are harder to defeat. To a certain extent, that is true. For example, the current SA Sustainability Officer who ran for Vice President has the Sustainability Network working under her. This means that more people know her compared to her opponent. Granted, her only opponent was Re-Open Nomination (RON) since she was a sole candidate that ran for Vice President position.
A second example would be the fact that the current SA International Officer ran for SA President and won. As per the SA Constitution, the International Students Officer is the Co-Chairperson of the Food Network, Accommodation Network, Security Network, Transport Network and Health Network. This shows that he has the advantage of automatically being more well known than the two other running candidates. While the rules by the Elections Committee bans current SA Executive from using their platforms to promote themselves, it is essential to note that during the campaigning period, there were only ten Elections Committee members. Thus, it could be said that the candidates are expected to be honest as understandably, ten students alone are unable to monitor all the networks under the Student Association. In my opinion, depending on candidate’s honesty alone is far from reassuring.
A few group of students found the SA and the General Election to be rigged, in a way that they don’t entirely fulfill their mandates to serve the students. It came to the point that an Instagram account and a Facebook page called ‘Boycott the SA General Elections’ was created. While the owner of the page did post contents that were at times ill-mannered and immature, they did bring up some valid concerns regarding the elections. For example, they claimed that an Elections Committee member was working with them, casting a shadow of doubt about the integrity of the elections process. They also brought up other reasons such as the SA does not give enough attention to racism and visa issues.
The page went dormant for a while after they posted a story saying that the management was investigating them. Then, their name changed to ‘Vote for RON’ in order to push students to have a re-election. However, they didn’t achieve their objective. I, for one, believe that the management has better things to do than investigating an Instagram and a Facebook page that was using their freedom of speech to call students to boycott the elections. Nevertheless, they were investigated anyway, in a move that is similar to authoritarian regimes’ playbook.
I also believe that the Student Association has a censorship issue where students are not able to voice out their opinions and partake in healthy debates freely. By this, I do not mean that the SA bans opinions altogether; rather, they restrict it too much. For example, during the International Women’s Day Panel Talk, a website for students to ask questions to the panelists was circulated by the organiser, which is the Sustainability Network. However, there were claims that the organisers then deleted the questions from the websites. I attended the event and I could verify that these claims are valid and that even questions that were asked were carefully edited, likely to not sound too provocative. This is very ironic seeing that the police have questioned the speaker that they invited, Marina Mahathir for using her freedom of speech, and in an event starring her, freedom of speech is breached.
Simply put, even though the University is generally enjoyable, it cannot be denied that there are problems that need to be addressed. This does not mean, however, that coming to this University is not recommended.
Despite all of it, I would still recommend studying here if I am ever asked by anyone as there are still many positive sides to it such as the well-being centre and angelic samaritans such as the Chinese Stall uncle and aunty who delivered food to off-campus students during the Restricted Movement Order.
Written by Nasrul Haziq