We are at a time that promises us a Malaysia that is more open and inclusive.
This is a Malaysia that just had its general election after at least three years of political treachery, turmoil and turbulence, within a wider environment of a worldwide pandemic and a nationwide emergency that saw the loss of so many lives, with many others – individuals and companies – experiencing economic and personal devastation.
Our higher education system too took a battering during this period, with, among other things, foreign students being unable to fly to Malaysia due to travel restrictions worldwide.
The slow-off-the-mark responses by the ministries of education and higher education for much of the pandemic, the emergency and movement control order created problems for many schools and higher education institutions.
But now, with a seemingly reformist administration back in the saddle, there appear to be opportunities for education reform tied to notions of academic freedom, university autonomy, academic integrity and quality.
These are issues that have been at the core of Gerak’s activities and struggle ever since our inception more than 30 years ago. These remain the key concerns that Gerak will continue to deal with for some time still.
We have expressed these concerns multiple times in the media and through the discussions we have had with those in power and other stakeholders.
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Since it bears repeating, Gerak’s concern is with our higher education environment, its governance, the university’s reason for being, the integrity of academics and academe, access to higher education, and resisting against political interference in higher education.
We are aware of the movement to the Right in many countries. Malaysia is no different, and this has been the case with our universities as well.
Actually, this appears to have been the case in our universities for a long time, with many academics shamelessly playing the “saya yang menurut perintah” (I who abide by orders) game, not wanting to question the authorities within and outside the university environment.
This would be a fine stand to take were it not for the fact that our universities – certainly our public universities – face numerous problems affecting not only their operation but also their purpose and function.
It is precisely because of this that Gerak is here. We are not some entity fighting for pay increases and more perks for university academics. We leave that to the academic staff associations in the universities.
Our fight, our struggle is at the level of philosophy, ideology and policy.
We are concerned about neoliberal economics and the impact on universities. We are troubled – and seek to reform – laws and policies affecting our curricular, university academics and equal opportunities for all qualified Malaysians to attend our universities.
These have been Gerak’s ’causes’, as it were, for many decades. They will remain as we move into a post-pandemic era that is full of uncertainty, with Malaysian communities at loggerheads with each other, social media platforms filled with hate, and a society that largely needs to be nurtured and rebuilt.