Amendments should be precursor to more freedom
     - The Sun Says

TO BE expected, there are mixed reactions to the proposed changes to the Universities and University Colleges Act 1971. Some, of course, are disappointed that the Act is still going to be around while others think the amendments will not change the present situation on campus very much.

No doubt there are also a few who are disappointed that the government is actually going to amend the Act which in their view should remain intact as students are incapable of deciding for themselves. For those who are against the UUCA, it should be remembered that the government has promised that the Act would eventually - in stages - disappear from the statute books. In that sense the proposed amendments must be seen as a significant first step in the leap forward to enable universities and other institutes of higher learning to increase their free space and improve their performance, while at the same time allow their students to participate in public organisations involved with concerns outside the campus. This will certainly help make them aware of public issues and indirectly prepare them for life after they graduate.

For over 30 years, various organisations representing students, academicians, parents and all those who disagree with any form of constraints on tertiary educational institutions, have demanded that the Act be repealed. Some even went to court to challenge curbs on the freedom of students to act, associate and organise themselves.

The UUCA came about after students became involved in a number of public debates and demonstrations in support of all kinds of causes following the racial riots of May 13, 1969. In protest, students from a number of campuses participated more widely in public demonstrations over national as well as international issues. The government reacted in 1975 by amending the Act which bars political activism by students and academicians.

The day the bill became law was seen as a dark day for students and academicians alike. The many provisions of the Act became blinkers to the students as they were prevented from expressing themselves on issues that concern others outside the campus. Under the Act, independent student unions and other popular student organisations which had for years organised activities for their members, atrophied.

Much of what the students wanted to do in terms of extra-curricular activities had to have the approval of the vice-chancellors and other heads of administration of the various campuses. In time, the spirit of the campuses of the pre-1971 days flickered and gradually died. In some ways the Act is partly responsible for the type of graduates public universities produce these days, with many unemployable. While the amendments to the Act may not seem like much, let’s hope they will gradually, after further amendments, restore to life the pre-1971 spirit of the inquiring mind on all campuses.

The Sun, 30 Jul 2008


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