What is AUKU?
AUKU stands for Akta Universiti dan Kolej Universiti or its English term, Universities and University Colleges Act and was first introduced in 1971 as part of legislative authority of the Ministry of Higher Education of Malaysia and since then, has gone through several amendments.
The purpose of this act is to govern higher education institutions in the country, or also described by universities’ Student Unions: to restrict student movement and participation in Malaysia’s politics.
At this point, you might think: why does the government restrict students’ movement? In this article, we will talk about the definition of AUKU, the answer to your questions, its controversies & criticism, notable people and their role in AUKU, and the government’s future plans.
The Definition of AUKU
Akta Universiti dan Kolej Universiti, as mentioned, was legislated and approved by the King on 27th of April 1971 and the justification of the establishment of this act is to provide for the establishment, organization and management of Universities and Public University Colleges.
As the tragedy of 13th May 1969 occurred, a national state of emergency was called by the Prime Minister of Malaysia at that time, Tunku Abdul Rahman.
Universities were governed and put under the jurisdiction of Emergency (Essential Powers) Ordinance No. 74, which led to the basis of the AUKU that we now know.
Tun Hussein Onn, the Minister of Education at that time clarified that AUKU’s purpose was to act as a legal instrument for the establishment of universities in the country, and to officiate the relationship between the state and universities in Malaysia.
The reason why the government wanted to restrict students’ movement is because of what happened in Tasik Utara and Baling, or ‘The Baling Protest 1974’, shows how powerful the voice and mind of students fighting for the fate of the people from being pressured by the government. Since then, there have been six amendments made by the government.
It’s only recent that subsection (c) of Section 15 (2) of AUKU in the act was removed in the 2018 Amendment. The subsections, which had previously banned students from taking part in political party activities within the grounds of universities and colleges and ultimately ended the practice of separating campus life and politics.
Controversies & Criticism
Regardless of the removal of subsection (c) of Section 15 (2) of AUKU, some student organisations expressed worry about the Act’s maintain the power of the vice-chancellor’s authority to suspend or disband any group conducting matters that may jeopardize the university’s interests and harmony.
There have been multiple cases that show clear restrictions on students rights and violate international human rights law.
A clear example of this was shown in 2018. FortifyRights reported that the head of the Safety and Security Department at the Universiti Malaysia Sabah (UMS) threatened disciplinary action against three students who criticised the university on social media for its silence following an alleged attempted rape of a female student by a UMS security officer.
Notable Victims of AUKU
Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim was prohibited from visiting his alma university, Universiti Malaya (UM) to speak at an event titled “40 Years: From UM to Prison” when he was the opposition leader. The university also warned students not to attend the event, threatening disciplinary punishment against anybody who did not follow its instructions.
Adam Adli who is now the Deputy Youth and Sports Minister, was suspended for three semesters, a total of 18 months while doing his studies at Universiti Pendidikan Sultan Idris (UPSI) for tarnishing the university’s name and disturbing public peace and safety.
Syed Saddiq, who is the President of the Malaysian United Democratic Alliance (MUDA), shared that after he criticised the corruption and power abuses in Malaysia, he was not invited to his convocation, he was fired as a temporary lecturer and a debate trainer. It is also reported that his students were prevented from representing their universities.
Muhammad Hilman Idham
Hilman Idham, who is now Gombak Setia State Assemblyman, was charged with Section 15(5)(a) of AUKU, alongside with his 2 coursemates, Muhammad Ismail bin Aminuddin, and Azlin Shafina Mohamad Adzha, when they were studying Political Science at Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia (UKM). The three of them was stopped by the police, while on their way to observe the by-election campaigning process at Hulu Selangor.
In March 2023, The Deputy Higher Education Minister Datuk Mohammad Yusof Apdal, mentioned in the Parliament that there are no plans for the government to abolish AUKU as it is still relevant and is a well-functioning act. However, he also mentioned that any weaknesses in the act can be improved through amendments.
In conclusion, the Akta Universiti dan Kolej Universiti (AUKU) in Malaysia, which governs higher education institutions, has faced controversy and criticism for restricting student movement and involvement in politics. Yes, amendments have been made, but undeniably, there are still restrictions that students face. Promises were made in politicians’ manifestos, but none have been kept yet by the current government. Will we experience the day when AUKU is abolished? Well, that’s not on us to question that… Let’s just wait and see.