The Higher Education Minister, Datuk Idris Jusoh should stop being elitist, patronizing or even “Marie Antoinettish”, as he stop arguing over whether there are hungry university students but get down to resolve the problem of students cutting down on meals because of economic exigencies.
His statement two days ago that he went hungry too when he was a student, but lack of money was not always the issue, was not on the level of the infamous Marie Antoinette statement of “Let them eat cake!” when the French queen learned that the peasants had no bread, but was sufficiently unsympathetic to the students’ problems as to approximate Marie Antoinette in callousness and indifference to social sufferings among the people.
Instead of spearheading a campaign to end such a serious problem, Idris could only think of browbeating the media by ordering them not to highlight such issues; while one Minister after another had followed Idris to express skepticism about the existence of the problem of hungry University students.
This is most shocking for the problem of students cutting down on meals or even going hungry because of the economic strains on the students and their families, is not synthetic problem but a very real issue, as I had met university students in such straits in the past few weeks.
For this reason the initiative of a group of NGOs to help feed less fortunate university students who are in need of food assistance, under the name of Gabungan Kami Sayang Mahasiswa (Kasih), is most timely and welcome.
It is in such areas that the Higher Education Minister should devote energies and times, instead of orchestrating declarations by university deputy vice chancellors that their students are not “starving”!
By continuing to deny the existence of the problem although more and more students have to cut down on meals or subsist only on instant noodles or go hungry, Idris is not providing leadership or doing any service to university students or higher education in Malaysia.
Idris should take heed of the call by student leaders and student organisations urging administrators of public universities not to make their own assumptions on the “hungry students” controversy from the comfort of their air-conditioned offices.
Public university administrators should cut down on bureaucracy and help the students so that they do not have to turn to soup kitchens for food.