Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Reflection on EM-UKEC first strategic meeting.

A personal reflection on last weekend's EM-UKEC first Strategic Meeting with 22 different societies. 

In 1995, UKEC was first formed in hopes to change the landscape of Malaysian student activism in the UK, from one that was partisan and a mere vehicle for political masters in Malaysia, to one that promotes intellectualism, openness, and spirit of volunteerism. (not elitism) While our course of actions may differ than 20 years ago, it is important for us to maintain true to our principles and go back to the basics of the organisation. 
Time has changed. The Malaysian student activism is more dynamic than before. There has been proliferation of Malaysian student societies and people have started to question the status quo. Hence, it was about time for us to scrutinise these areas and delve further to find a concrete, outcome-driven action plans that are not imposed by the UKEC council, but rather a result of synergy between student leaders to work towards a common agenda. 

In the strategic meeting, we looked at 4 key areas, namely Promoting the Malaysian Culture, Intellectual Discourse & Student Activism, Synergising Malaysian Student Events and Addressing the Relevance of an Umbrella Body. 
I might miss a few points, but a more detailed statement will be released by the ukec team in the near future since we did assign a few people to take notes during the session. :) 
1. Promoting the Malaysian Culture
How can we make Malaysian Night more impactful?  (Why is this important? check out
I have been part of MNight for 2 years as dikir barat choreographer and I enjoyed it thoroughly, meeting people who made my life enjoyable, and some of them made important mark in my life when they worked with me to start a new society. It is a great initiative by Malaysian Societies, and there are many ways we can make them more (culturally) impactful. Mnight should be more than "girl loves boy, some tragedy happen and then the boy dies classic love story" while culture is displayed in a superficial manner. 
-If we were to bring back UKEC award, instead of giving generic award like best Malaysian Night, a clear set of criteria should be made ie the Most Historic Malaysian Night etc. 
-Scriptwriters have the challenge of starting everything from scratch and not all of them necessarily know much about local stories that we have in Malaysia. So a bank of local stories can be compiled as a source of reference for mnight scriptwriters. 
-It is recommended that the essence of the culture should be emphasised in mnight. For example, mnight booklet can contain information about each of the traditional dances which can be informative for the audience.(especially non-Malaysians) 
-There is little to no point in promoting our Malaysian Culture in a foreign country when there are very few non-Malaysians attending the Mnight. A few incentives can be spotted/highlighted to encourage msocs to get more non-Malaysian audience, ie
a) Clashes of Mnight, which seem inevitable every year, shouldn't be a big problem if we can attract non-Malaysians to attend. 
b) It can be one of the criterias for UKEC award if we were to bring it back. 
c) It could give a better chance for more funding since thats when it meets its core purpose. I have been asking for sponsorship from Tourism Malaysia and I've been constantly asked about the number of non-Malaysians attended our Mnight.

Some emphasised on the essence of culture/identity itself, ie What is the definition of Malay? 

What about other events that can be organised to promote the Malaysian Culture? 

There are a number of events suggested, perhaps a TED style talk or workshops with topics that are centred on culture, or perhaps, a talent show (with a set of guidelines to make it more 'local'). And there are a number of ongoing events that can be emulated, such as the Malaysian Festival, and we can see some regions are collaborating to organise one as well which is especially beneficial for smaller msocs such as the West Midlands MFest. 

2. Intellectual Discourse & Student Activism. 

As mentioned earlier, UKEC was first formed in hopes to change the landscape of student activism, from partisan to one that promotes intellectualism. Hence, that leads to the question of how can we promote bi-partisan intellectual discourse instead of just giving platforms for politicians to serve their agenda? 

Some suggested to increase the standard of intellectual discourse. People react to structures. A more rigorous metric can be introduced for the research team to ensure that the content of the discourse meets the standard. While we need to lift up our benchmark, it is important to note that the information presented should be accessible to the target audience, where not everyone necessarily have background knowledge in economics etc. so a metric on how the contents presented should be included. 

While there are differences of opinion whether student organisations should take a partisan vs non-partisan stance when it comes to addressing politics, I feel that everyone has a common interest for our nation despite the difference in means to achieve them.

I think political maturity needs to be instilled to have more impact in student activism. As argued by George Lakoff in his book "The Political Mind", voters opinion are often neither logical or self-made (example: Brexit, Trump), and we shouldn't let ourselves become vehicle for politicians to spread their agenda. Instead, consider different sides, encourage more public debates, have a team to make some fact-checks for the debate, and let the audience decide for themselves. Focus on policies that can make real difference (there are so much that need to be done for parliamentary reform) and bring them to the right channel. 

3.Synergising Malaysian student activities.

There has been a proliferation of student organisations lately and everyone is working in silos, causing more overlap in events that are organised. 

I think it is necessary to highlight we are all non-profit student organisations and we serve a common interest. We are not here to compete. 

Forming a common agenda (building towards TN50? SDGs, preparation for 4th Industrial Revolution) is not easy, but it is necessary to have an effective impact. 

Some suggestions include:
-streamline events promotion
-encourage more collaboration

It is true that many if not most student societies can survive on their own. However, I think we still need to have an umbrella body to address the macroscopic  matters, which leads to 

4.Addressing the relevance of an umbrella body.

Many felt that UKEC has lost its relevance for the past few years, especially when we are no longer the main point of contact for politicians and corporates in which we used to be before. 

I think we need to go back to the basics.

UKEC was formed as a coalition of Malaysian Societies. Through the coalition, it amplified the voices of students. In the past, we played an instrumental role to pass a law that raised the allowances for JPA and MARA and made public statements on the University and University Colleges Act (UUCA) in 2011/12. The previous committee did a brilliant job at meeting this mandate when they made statements on pressing issues such as NSC and the one JPA scholars. Building on the past, this is definitely something that we need to continue.

Representing and meeting the needs of Malaysian students is not an easy job and it can only be done through collaborative effort,  For example, looking at a smaller scale, drawing from past experience, Manchester has one of the largest Malaysian population in the UK, with 1,045 in University of Manchester alone. However, reaching out to 1,000+ students is not an easy job, since as Malaysian society, we usually reach out to only about 400 students, and our outreach can only be consolidated through working with communities such as Malaysian Community of Old Trafford (MCOT) and Malaysian Community of Cheetham Hill (MCCH).

For UKEC to represent Malaysian students in the UK and Ireland, relationship between Malaysian societies and UKEC needs to be strengthened and it is a two-way street. The regional chairpersons also play a very important role in representation of Malaysian students by working closely with Malaysian societies, which can be done through organising regional small-scale events and encouraging them to have an ad-hoc committee. Some suggested for UKEC to have a volunteer corp because UKEC was built on volunteerism. Besides meeting the needs, we also need to set agenda, such as encouraging more people to vote for the next GE.

“One voice can change a room, and if one voice can change a room, then it can change a city, and if it can change a city, it can change a state, and if it change a state, it can change a nation, and if it can change a nation, it can change the world. Your voice can change the world.”  -President Obama.

Change is not easy. But hopefully, the strategic meeting will be a step forward to a positive change for Malaysian Student activism in the UK. 

Disclaimer: Everything I posted is a personal opinion and may not necessarily represent the opinion of UKEC. We will produce a statement for the outcome of the strategic meeting in the near future.