KUALA LUMPUR, Jan 11 — Suggesting students take up part-time jobs to cope with rising living costs is merely a short-term solution and does not address the core problem of costly higher education in Malaysia, student groups said.
Kesatuan Mahasiswa Malaysia (Kesatuan) said the Higher Education Ministry must stop avoiding the issue of expensive tertiary education by offering piecemeal solutions and take a more pragmatic approach instead, either by drastically cutting tuition fees or making it free altogether for impoverished students.
“In short, KPT should present an all-inclusive solution like giving an 80 to 100 per cent discount on tuition fees for students coming from poor backgrounds,” Azzan Aznan Abdul Rahim, president of the coalition of 20 public university student groups, told Malay Mail Online in a text message yesterday, using the Malay abbreviation for the Higher Education Ministry.
Former University Malaya student council president Fahmi Zainol voiced similar views, claiming the current allocations were insufficient to last students an entire semester.
“One semester’s fees is almost RM2,000. Let’s say the PTPTN loan for a semester is RM2,500. After paying your fees, that leaves you with RM500 for meals for six months. It’s not logical,” Fahmi told Malay Mail Online in a text message.
Higher Education Minister Datuk Seri Idris Jusoh who took to his Facebook page over the weekend and suggested students consider part-time work, whether on- or off-campus to earn extra pocket money to cover their food bill, following news reports of undergraduates too cash-strapped to afford decent meals.
Azzan conceded that part-time jobs were feasible, but was quick to emphasis that not all students were able to take it up due to a number of hurdles ranging from rigid class schedules to lack of transportation.
“Not all students can afford to work part time as the work schedule will not tally with class schedules unless the student studies from morning to the evening and then works from night until the morning,” the International Islamic University of Malaysia student said.
Gabungan Mahasiswa Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia representative Usamah Kamarudin said on-campus jobs were limited while off-campus jobs could raise a student’s expenditure rather than offset it.
“Not all students have their own cars to go to their workplace for a part-time job. There is no such thing as public transportation that is cheap to be used by students that will take you directly to your workplace.
“Even if there is, it’d be the taxi. But we’re all fully aware of the costs with using taxis which is very expensive,” he said in a text message to Malay Mail Online.
Azzan urged universities to provide more on-campus job opportunities and suggested students could work as support staff, tuition teachers or tutors.
Last Friday, Malay daily Harian Metro reported a psychology major at Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia (UKM) was hospitalised after her intestines were found to have ruptured due to poor eating habits, which she attributed to financial problems that left her just RM30 a week to spend on food and other necessities.
Since then, other students have emerged with similar complaints, relating how they had to stretch limited funds due to increasing living costs.
In response, the higher education minister highlighted that public universities have implemented several food programmes such as free meal distributions, food coupons, pre-paid meals and a “pay-it-forward” scheme in which a student pays for two meals with one to go to another student who could not afford it.
But Azzan said these food programmes were “a short-term solution” that was only recently stepped up in frequency from once a week to daily.
He suggested the National Higher Education Fund (PTPTN) increase its allocation to RM4,000 a semester for students from impoverished backgrounds to cope with rising living costs.
“We’ve got to solve the root problem first. The government should not point the finger at students, instead the government should provide a long-term solution for this issue,” he added.