THE DISCOURSE : Public undergrads in the hot seat

THREE years since students at Universiti Malaya (UM) started conducting campus elections on their own, the student body has reportedly shown a marked difference in their political awareness.

This, said UM deputy vice-chancellor (Student Affairs) Prof Dr Sabri Musa, is due in part to the varsity’s effort to increase political literacy among students.

“We can see a difference in our students’ ideas and perspectives about politics and elections,” he told StarEdu.

In 2019, UM held its first campus election that was independently run by students.

This created an environment where students could participate in decision-making, hence increasing awareness about the political system in Malaysia, said Prof Sabri.

 Prior to 2019, campus elections had been handled by staff from the student affairs division, he explained.

This had led to extended working hours until the wee hours, especially during vote counting, thus affecting the same staff who had to return to work in the morning.

“Fewer issues have arisen since the elections were handled by the students,” he shared.

“To create trust in our students, we have to initiate an environment where we trust them in handling major events.

“This helps us in so many ways where we can have discussions more freely and openly, and also get students’ opinions on their skills development,” he added.

Prof Sabri also pointed out that independent campus elections give students experience in handling the elections themselves and help them understand the electoral system.

“It equips our students with relevant soft skills such as leadership, critical thinking, communication skills and problem-solving, as well as provides experiential learning.

“It is a learning process for them in terms of upholding confidentiality and integrity while handling the elections,” he said.

 During the early stages of implementing the independent campus elections, the university had met with several challenges, he shared.

“There were no guidelines at first but with the help of the Higher Education Ministry and other public universities, a set of documents that acted as election guidelines were developed.

“We had to amend our university’s constitution with the help of our legal department,” he recalled.

Seeing the positive outcomes, Prof Sabri encouraged tertiary students to get involved in their campus elections.

“This will help them grow into better citizens and prepare them for life after graduation, which would be tough, especially during the transition to the endemic phase of Covid-19.“It is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for them and I believe they will appreciate it,” he said.

Elected representatives

Fresh from retaining his general seat at UM’s fourth student-led campus election held last month, law student Arvinkumar K. Mohan has new goals in mind for the student union.

Prof Sabri: To create trust in our students, we have to initiate an environment where we trust them in handling major events.Prof Sabri: To create trust in our students, we have to initiate an environment where we trust them in handling major events.

“With this win, I hope to pave a new way forward for the student union, to expand its potential and to serve the best interest of the students,” said the 23-year-old, who won the seat with 3,458 votes – the third highest among those who contested.

According to the elected representative from the Suara Siswa pro-student movement group, the student union embodies a functioning student government akin to every arm of the government, where there is a legislative chamber to guide the executive.

“I was the secretary of strategy planning in the previous Cabinet, helming six departments under my portfolio, which spearheaded some of the union’s most fundamental initiatives in legal affairs and campus policies.

 “Through my portfolio, I drafted the framework now named Rules of Procedure and Conduct of the Select Committee 2022, which details how the select committee at the university’s parliamentary level would function and operate,” he said.

“Being a law student myself, I have always operated within the means of the rule of law in adherence to the larger principle that there must be compliance to the procedural requirements of law,” he added.

Asserting that clean politics with proper discourse on manifestos, ideological perspectives and the merits of the candidates is what the youth are looking for, Arvinkumar said that student-led campus elections give no room…

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