KUALA LUMPUR, June 8 — The federal government has reversed its move to freeze student loans for Selangor-owned universities after it drew fierce criticisms from Pakatan Rakyat (PR) politicians who were joined by some Barisan Nasional (BN) leaders fearing a political backlash.
Universiti Selangor (Unisel) officials confirmed the loan freeze was lifted today, just a day after Deputy Prime Minister Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin defended as fair the move which was clearly aimed at laying bare PR’s campaign for free university education.
Sinar Harian reported the varsity’s vice-chancellor, Prof Anuar Ahmad, as saying that “this is the result of discussions with PTPTN... at 11am.”
This comes after criticisms from Umno Youth chief Khairy Jamaluddin and Deputy Higher Education Minister Datuk Saifuddin Abdullah the day after Muhyiddin defended the move as a “fair test” of the federal opposition’s free education pledge.
PTPTN had confirmed earlier today 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 is awaiting a reply from Higher Education Minister Datuk Seri Khaled Nordin after “informing him the freeze is being widely and strongly objected and seek his good office to rescind it.”
The freeze, which Muhyiddin and Khaled had called a “test” of Pakatan Rakyat’s (PR) free education pledge, had drawn fierce condemnation from the federal opposition and student groups.
DAP parliamentary leader Lim Kit Siang accused the Najib administration this morning of breaching public trust while an Islamic student group said Putrajaya must reverse the freeze and apologise.
The uproar led to BN Youth leaders voicing their disagreement, pointing out that the “test” was unnecessary as “it is clear Selangor cannot give free education.”
“Enough. Must stop. Morally wrong AND bad politics,” Khairy wrote on Twitter in response to the freeze on Kuis.
“I don’t want students becoming victims,” the Rembau MP also said earlier.
Kedah Gerakan Youth chief Tan Keng Liang, who has repeatedly criticised PR’s free education pledge, also said Putrajaya’s move was “wrong” and “PTPTN should have known Pakatan won’t give free education at Unisel.”
“End victims are students,” he added on Twitter.
But these protests from members of the ruling coalition came after PKR-led 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.
Ibrahim Suffian, from independent opinion researcher Merdeka Center also said the loan freeze “may potentially backfire on BN if Selangor can reach a practical and quick solution.”
“This will cut across the whole country as Unisel has students from other states and might blow up from something that is only popular to the young to their parents as well.
“After all, Selangor has huge reserves of RM1.8 billion and can quickly solve this,” he told The Malaysian Insider.