In the last week or so, many Malaysian students have claimed that they are hungry and poor, and it all started with a note that went viral on social media
In the anonymous note addressed to a mosque committee, the student apologised for “borrowing” several ringgit from the mosque collection box to buy food, after several days of going without a solid meal.
The student promised to return the money when he/she could, and asked that the mosque committee pray that he/she would succeed in his/her studies.
After that note went viral, many other students began to share their personal struggles of not having enough money for food...
... including a University of Malaysia (UKM) student who claimed that she starved until her intestines punctured
According to a Harian Metro report, the Sabahan claimed she sustained a punctured intestine due to her inability to afford food since her foundation days.
“Due to lack of food, my intestine was punctured, causing me to vomit blood,” she was quoted as saying in the report.
“Doctors advised me to eat and warned that I was at risk of intestinal cancer if I kept up my habit of not eating. But I couldn't do anything as I had no money,” said the girl named only as Nur.
Although the Education Ministry and universities have launched various financial aids to help students, it seems that they are still insufficient for these needy students
Higher Education Minister Idris Jusoh said the ministry and the universities had always been concerned over students’ welfare and had taken various initiatives to assist the students involved.
He also reiterated that there were various sources of financing to help the students among them the National Higher Education Fund, student cards, zakat, charitable funds and endowments.
“Part-time job opportunities are also available on campus paying between RM3 to RM10 per hour. I hope, people will not manipulate this issue,” he said.
Students are now demanding for the Higher Education Ministry to decrease the cost of tertiary education because the student loans are not sufficient to support their living cost
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.
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.
These students admit that there are ways to earn some extra income by taking part-time jobs, but it is difficult to hold a part-time job when they have tight schedules and transportation problems
“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,” Kesatuan Mahasiswa Malaysia (Kesatuan) president Azzan Abdul Rahim 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."
However, these complaints by students drew flak from the current generation of working adults, who rebuked them under the hashtag #mahasiswalapar (hungry students). Most of them shared how they had to juggle between a few jobs and studies to make ends meet.
Was dead broke, almost homeless, a father some more. Now I'm on stage inspiring others. #mahasiswalapar What excuse have you got?— Anthony Kong (@antskong) January 13, 2016
Although I was JPA scholar, I'd still work part time as a barista, replacement teacher, tuition tutor. No qualms about #mahasiswalapar— Norman Goh (@imnormgoh) January 12, 2016
On the other hand, many netizens are also beginning to question if the issue is a matter of priority, like this mother who shared her own story about her daughter who is studying at a public university:
"Every month, she received her scholarship money. On top of that, I gave her a monthly allowance, bought her personal care stuff, and even sent groceries to her doorstep!
“Why then was she still saying that she didn’t have enough money?” I asked myself.
Then I noticed it. The weekly movies with friends. ‘Lepak’ sessions at Starbucks. Shopping extravaganzas. RM20 ice cream cravings. Mytaxi and GrabCar instead of LRT and public buses. Birthday presents for friends. The list went on," she wrote in an opinion column on FMT.
However, many have argued that not many parents have the privilege of providing for their children, so university students don't even have any money to manage to begin with
A Universiti Malaysia Sabah (UMS) alumni told SAYS that she was very fortunate to have her parents support her financially during her university days as the PTPTN loan she received was just enough to cover her tuition fees.
However, not everyone is as fortunate as her.
Take for example, Nur, the UKM student who claimed that she injured herself from starvation. Nur said that even when she was starving, she did not have the heart to ask her parents, a seamstress and a fisherman in Sandakan, for money. Instead, she read the Quran to soothe her hunger.
It could be out of desperation that these students are now asking for free education, seeing that they cannot afford it anymore. Nonetheless, it is important to ask if this response is actually a symptom of the 'handout mentality' among Malaysians.
According to Higher Education Ministry Secretary-General Datuk Seri Zaini Ujang, the government are subsidizing a minimum amount of RM16,000 for each student for their studies in public universities.
Yet, these students are demanding for further discounts for their tuition fees or even better, free education for all.
In 2013, Deputy Education Minister Datuk Mary Yap said that free education will breed a generation that is "unappreciative" of the value of education.
It will also create a future generation that is dependent on subsidies, and hence impact the good standards the government hopes to achieve in the education system, said Yap.fz.com
Lastly, whether or not the government decides to provide more subsidies and hand-outs, they are still temporary measures. The government should instead look to develop long-term policies that will ultimately guide these students towards self-sustainability.
How a country prioritises the needs and rights of its individual citizens says a lot about how much it values their contribution to society. And Japan seems to be doing a pretty amazing job at it: