A quick background
The past one year had been one of the most challenging parts of my life. I still vividly remember the moment when I was deciding whether I should run for another term in the United Kingdom and Eire Council of Malaysian Students (UKEC) and there were a lot of self-doubts when I had to weight my decision- What if I couldn’t give my best due to my final year project? Would I be able to lead the organisation well? What if I end up disappointing my parents if I didn’t do well in my studies, especially when I almost failed my 3rd-year first semester during my first term in UKEC?
I have had the privilege to spend the past 4 years to serve the Malaysian student community. I started as an event coordinator in Malaysian Student Society of Manchester (MSSM) and served a second term as President with hopes of uniting the races within the Malaysian community and introduce ASEAN initiatives. Through the friends I’ve met in Dikir Barat, we set up Young Malaysian Engineers (YME) after organising the first instalment of the Malaysian Student’s Technology Conference. While I was in the midst of setting up YME, I ended up joining UKEC and stayed for a second term. (previously wrote about this last year here)
Last year, I decided to run for a second term because I wanted to introduce a few initiatives that I felt would improve UKEC. There have been a lot of improvements, and I am proud of my team for the sacrifices they have made to implement those ideas. However, I feel that more could be done, we have not reached our full potential as an umbrella body yet, and we should never settle for less. Since I will be retiring soon and I do not have much time left, I guess the best contribution I could make is by sharing some ideas and thoughts on my blog. Before I point out the aspects of student activism that can be improved, I think it would be fair to start with a reflection on the time spent in UKEC for the past one year to set the context. For reference, you can find the link to my manifesto here which was published when I ran for Chairperson in April 2017.
|Last year's PAN XIV- the days when I used to have round specs in hopes to look younger.|
Representation through more engagements?
As a coalition of Malaysian societies, the first point of improvement that we always focused on would be our relationship with the Malaysian Student Societies. Building on the past, one of the changes we made was providing platforms for student organisations to participate in our flagship events. For example, apart from the provision of booths, we offered platforms for Malaysian student organisations to co-organise breakout sessions at our flagship conference, Projek Amanat Negara (PAN) XV. This collaborative effort brought mutual benefits for both UKEC and the Malaysian societies as we diversified the topics that were discussed at the conference, the sessions were more interactive, and it was one of the most meaningful ways for UKEC to share its resources.
On top of having the usual Annual General Meeting and the Ordinary General Meeting (where the Shadow Council elections are held), we also tried to increase our engagement with the student leaders through strategic meetings, which was first introduced last year when I first joined as Deputy Chairperson. Essentially, this is where we scrutinise issues that are pertinent to Malaysian societies such as the proliferation of student organisations, the relevance of an umbrella body and how Malaysian Nights could be more impactful. Recently, we also looked at how we could structurally decentralise by considering the regional council. An example of the meeting outcome can be found here. This year, we did our best to increase the frequency of engagements by having a cultural initiative in Malaysia as well as strategic meetings at London, Manchester and Ireland. The regional chairpersons also played their part by increasing the number of regional events organised.
Within the online sphere and inspired by a book called the ‘Platform Revolution’, we have also introduced three new platforms known as UKECommunity where anyone could promote any Malaysian events in the UK and Republic of Ireland, UKEConversations for an open discourse on national issues and [i]mpact Hub for anyone who wishes to recruit ad-hoc committees or kickstart a project. The website was also revamped to form a platform that is synonymous with an Eventbrite for Malaysian student organisations in the UK and Republic of Ireland.
There was an aim to help the Malaysian students with guidelines and training. One of the new initiatives that we carried out was the introduction of a leadership camp called UKEC LEAD (Leadership Exploration And Development) Programme. The intention of organising this was to serve as a boot camp for Malaysian society leaders to acquire relevant skillsets. While we had to make a few changes and open it to broader audience base, it did serve several beneficiaries from Malaysian society leaders who want to acquire the skillsets to lead their society to students who are interested to carry out their projects under the mentorship of Thriving Talents. This was also coupled with a document that we prepared for them which serves as a Guideline for Supreme Councillors.
In terms of advocation, we had been focusing a lot on the bread and butter issues. For instance, in the past, we lobbied against policies that would lead to retraction of scholarships for students overseas, and we introduced initiatives to encourage more people to vote for the general election earlier this year. Yet, would these initiatives be good enough for effective representation? Why didn’t any of us show our solidarity to Cassandra when she was intimidated by certain parties for putting up a petition to take down the portrait of our former Prime Minister? I wasn’t in UKEC executive council yet then since I was still serving as the President of Malaysian Student Society of Manchester (MSSM), but admittedly, I was one of those who stayed silent since my focus was mainly on organising the usual Msoc events. Even if we put up statements, would they reflect the views of the students that we are supposed to represent when only 168 filled up our survey for our statement against the Anti-Fake News Bill?
Drawing a parallel to the National Union of Students (NUS) in the UK, they went from being apolitical (only advocated on student grants etc.) to institutionalising political agitation and protests in the late 1960s. Is it about time for UKEC to do the same? Would Malaysian Societies want to be associated to UKEC if UKEC gets too political?
Will UKEC still be relevant? Can UKEC improve?
I believe that UKEC is relevant and will still be relevant to support more Malaysian student organisations for many years to come. It has been a common platform that unites many individual Malaysians from different races, political leanings and generations. While I will write this in more detail next time, I have learned a lot from the time I spent in student societies, from picking myself up in my studies with better time management + attention management to meeting many fellow Malaysians who share similar interests. In the end, it is not about making your CVs look good, but more of a journey for self-improvement and making friends that would last a lifetime.
Sometimes you need to be part of the system to change the system. This has been proven in history when looking at Chiang Ching-Kuo with the political liberalisation in Taiwan, Deng Xiaoping with the market-economy reforms in China and perhaps the most classic (and ironic) example of all, Tun Mahathir with the Reformasi movement. As a soon to be alumnus myself, I will play my part to contribute ideas and I encourage others to do the same for their student organisations.
These are the list of questions//ideas that I feel are worth discussing moving forward. And I hope these would help in taking UKEC further forward with its role in student activism. I do not have the absolute answers as to how and these are merely suggestions that can be further discussed by the future committee members:
- Change also needs to come from a bottom-up approach. There has always been a disconnection between the priorities of the Malaysian student society leaders and the student activism that we should aspire to have in UKEC. The Malaysian student society leaders usually become members of the Supreme Council to represent their members in UKEC General Meetings. However, when electing student leaders at grassroots level, the focus had always been on improving events such as Malaysian Nights and Malaysian Games rather than how they could effectively represent their interests in UKEC meetings.
- How can this be resolved? The Supreme Council members consist of (1) the president and (2) a representative of the society. Consider the case for a student activism officer and perhaps have a student activism officer to represent your Malaysian society’s interest.
- It has been more than 10 years since there has been any major committee restructuring in UKEC. Based on my experience, the current initiatives we have are already enough to overstretch the committee (some of them hardly sleep just to carry out the initiatives we have).
- Consider an expansion. Perhaps CEKU (an independent editorial arm of UKEC) can be absorbed under the Catalyst office, so it’s easier to have better synergy between both parties.
- UKEC need to establish more presence in different parts of UK and Republic of Ireland. I had done my best when I travelled every weekend to London and one weekend in Ireland to establish UKEC’s presence. My committee members (especially the Regional Chairpersons under our Deputy Chairperson) have made a lot of improvements in this area by organising more regional events. However, more could be done.
- Consider having regional councils. (Proposal can be found here) Currently, regional chairpersons are elected by 2-4 supreme councillors from their regions. Consider revising this.
- Make full use of the social media to create more presence rather than using it only for event promotions. UKEC is more than just event organisers but we haven’t shown that enough within the online sphere. Consider emulating platforms like @twt_malaysia as well as The International Malaysians.
- For many years, we have always been told by some alumni and others that we should work closely with Education Malaysia/High Commissioner (or basically, government agencies) and make our contributions from the networks that they could provide. This year, we have been working with them to host more sessions with distinguished individuals through speaker series, organise voters’ registration drive, attempted to have a partnership with Malaysian Restauranteers Association (MRA) for discount cards and further establish our international network through the British Malaysian Society (BMS).
- This is more of an advice rather than a solution, and perhaps something that I wish I could have been more firm on earlier. The government agencies need us more than we need them. Remember that we do not serve them. There have been times where we had friction with them when we invited Dato Sri' Mukhriz for our conference, when we provided platforms for the student declaration that was built on Cassandra’s case and when we issued statements against the anti-fake news bill. Of course, it is Malaysia baru and we may not have the same problem anymore. But remember, power corrupts, and the government/politicians should always be challenged.
- We can improve so much more in terms of the quality of our intellectual discourse. One of my biggest regrets was that I missed the opportunity to work with a group of students called The Independent School of Thinkers (IST) whom always have weekly discussions on topics such as philosophy and probably one of the few groups of people who have a strong commitment to intellectualism.
- We tried to explore topics in PAN that are inspired by classical works such as the Myth of Lazy Natives and we tried to reach out to PhD students in our Coffee and Conversations Series. While we already have UKEConversations as an open platform for polls and opinions, we need to reach out further. Perhaps more could be done by organising a collaborative online platform with organisations like UTAM (Universiti Terbuka Anak Muda).
- Having proper documentation on the history of the organisation is very important for institutional memory. Knowing the organisation’s history is important for UKEC’s identity. I have been spending the past 2 years meeting alumni such as Rafizi Ramli, Nik Nazmi, Shahril Hamdan, Akramsyah, Wan Firdaus, Amir Fareed, Arwah Nazrin and others to learn more about the history of the organisation. However, the weakness behind obtaining this information from interviews is that there may be variations based on the personal accounts of the different alumni. At the moment, we are trying to compile a series of interviews by the alumni, compress them to a 3-minute video titled “UKEC-Our Story” so it can be presented to the public and organise more alumni initiatives.
- A website for ukec alumni to compile documents and stories behind ukec councils was bought 10 years ago but this initiative was dropped when everyone became busy with their own families and work. I would probably work on this as a side project if I have the time.
We have made a lot of improvements in the past 1 year and I have no regrets for spending my final year with UKEC. Nevertheless, that does not mean that UKEC should settle and be complacent because we still have so much more potential. I have learned to manage myself better and I am grateful to my committee members for their work ethics. Thanks to them and for the support I received from those around me, I will be graduating next week and I managed to pass my degree with a 2:1 (but 1 mark away from a first, which made me think that I should have spent more time to lose weight. Hahaha) Perhaps, the main takeaway is that university is not a glorified high school and this is the best time to get yourselves involved in any form of activism – join the NUS, form your own student organisations, write more, or contribute to your Malaysian societies- because you can gain so much from these experience and there are a lot of things that can be improved. I enjoyed every second I’ve spent in UKEC and I will commit my best for the remaining months I have left. For all its worth, it is about time for many of us from my batch to leave soon, and I hope that the future generations can do a better job than we did in the past few years.
Disclaimer: This write-up is my personal collection of thoughts & reflections with regards to the matters as mentioned above and does not represent the majority of Malaysian students or even in my capacity as the Chairperson of UKEC.