Education the most divisive issue in Malaysia, says Anwar
PETALING JAYA, June 9 — Unequal access to education is causing division among the different races in the country, Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim said today, stressing the need for his Pakatan Rakyat’s (PR) free higher education policy to be implemented.
“Education is the most divisive, contentious issue in the country.
“I think once and for all everyone should be offered free education, allowance, boarding... then it will no longer a racial issue, or a question of (whether) Chinese and Indians get access as everyone will get access,” he told about 1,000 who attended an economic dialogue.
Anwar (picture) said this could be achieved by abolishing the need for repayment of National Higher Education Fund (PTPTN) loans to students.
“It’s not a populist policy to abolish PTPTN, we have the means.
“RM6 billion per year (is what we need). (Datuk Seri) Najib (Razak) said RM43 billion. I dispute that figure RM30 billion is what we need (to finance PTPTN repayment for students),” he said.
“The issue is not free education, it is democratisation of access to quality education.
“It is a question of policies and programmes that benefit the people. If we can understand this we won’t be lulled into complacency or incessant propaganda by mainstream media,” Anwar added.
Through careful and prudent spending of the country’s annual budget, Anwar claimed PR would be able to save RM37 billion a year.
RM24 billion from that amount, he said could be used to aid the needy.
The clash between PR and the ruling Barisan Nasional (BN) over the PTPTN loan scheme climaxed this week when loans to new students at Selangor-owned universities were frozen.
But the loans to Universiti Selangor (Unisel) and Selangor Islamic University College (Kuis) were restored on Friday following widespread condemnation from lawmakers on both sides of the divide and student activists.
But Higher Education Minister Datuk Seri Khaled Nordin insisted today Unisel’s appeal for PTPTN loans to be restored showed that Pakatan Rakyat (PR) could not deliver its promise of free education.
This was despite the PR-governed state announcing it would sell land owned by the university to raise RM30 million to help finance those being denied access to the student loans.
But Anwar said the move to freeze loans to universities owned by the state government his PKR controls was “a big mistake which angered people.”
“How can you threaten people like that? It was done out of sheer arrogance, and reversed because of (public) outrage.”
The federal government’s reversal yesterday was done after it drew fierce criticism from PR politicians who were joined by some Barisan Nasional (BN) leaders fearing a political backlash.
It came just days after the freeze was first announced and a day after Deputy Prime Minister Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin defended as a “fair test” the move which was clearly aimed at laying bare PR’s campaign for free university education.
Umno Youth chief Khairy Jamaluddin and Deputy Higher Education Minister Datuk Saifuddin Abdullah also criticised the move early yesterday after Selangor had announced it would help those who could not access PTPTN loans.
PTPTN had confirmed earlier yesterday newly enrolled students at the Selangor Islamic University College (Kuis) were to join those in Unisel in being denied student loans.
But Saifuddin wrote on Twitter that “the Kuis rector has met me and I have informed the minister of his appeal that PTPTN loans not be frozen for his students. Kuis’ official letter will be sent shortly.”
The Temerloh MP also told The Malaysian Insider that he was awaiting a reply from Khaled after “informing him the freeze is being widely and strongly objected and seeks his good office to rescind it.”
The uproar over the freeze also led to BN Youth leaders voicing their disagreement, pointing out that the “test” was unnecessary as “it is clear Selangor cannot give free education.”
But these protests from members of the ruling coalition came after Selangor decided to raise RM30 million by selling land owned by Unisel to provide financial assistance to students who have been denied the loans.
An Umno leader told The Malaysian Insider that if Selangor were to succeed in funding the affected students, “it would mean they have passed the test” set by Muhyiddin.