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LETTER | A desperate call to allow postgraduate students to continue research

BK Song

Published

LETTER | Most of the postgraduate research students in higher-learning institutes located in Selangor, Kuala Lumpur, Putrajaya and other parts of our nation have become desperate and discouraged by the declaration of conditional movement control order (CMCO) that was announced this week.

With the enforcement of CMCO, almost all postgraduate research students from these universities are banned from entering the campus to conduct experiments in the lab, without which will result in many serious consequences. These include weeks or even months of tireless efforts of preparing the research materials (eg plants, animals, bacterial, chemicals, etc) have all gone down to the drain, thus delaying data collection for analysis and hence postponement of thesis submission.

Although these universities may be sympathetic to the challenges that the postgraduate students are facing, and kind enough to allow students to extend their study, yet there is an effective timeframe for any PhD or MSc scholarship (2-4 years), after which the scholarship will be terminated and students are expected to graduate by that time. Some of them even have to pay from their own pockets, tens of thousands of ringgit for the postgraduate programme. Not to mention that some students are from the underprivileged or working-class B40 families, and in terms of finances, they will be most impacted.

Worse still, these postgraduate students who are constantly under pressure from meeting research milestones and deadlines with publication requirements, are likely to suffer from mental health issues even during the “old normal”. The current new normal conditions have caused havoc not only to their well-being and study, but also have affected the progress of research and development of the nation.

The paradox is that this current round of CMCO allows businesses and sectors, including research institutions, to continue to operate following the SOPs outlined by the government. Why are the postgraduate students not allowed to do the same?

It is irrational to say that postgraduate students are still “students”, or are immature, hence do not know how to follow the SOP set by the ministry; or because their number is too many, it is difficult to control them. It also does not make sense to say that they bring minimal economic values to the country, and therefore they should stop their research activities.

We must acknowledge that in developing countries like Malaysia (which seriously lacks postdoctoral fellows and researchers), it is mainly the PhD and MSc candidates who spearhead the development of science, medical and social science researches. Like researchers affiliated to research institutions, this cream of university students and future scientists of our nation work hard day and night to contribute towards science, technology, education and economy of the nation, and ultimately improve the people’s well-being around the world.

In the long run, without investment into research and development, Malaysia will get to nowhere and will be economically and scientifically lagging behind our counterparts in the region.

We, as supervisors of these postgraduate students, do appeal strongly to the government and we will sincerely appreciate it if the government could come to their rescue in this period of CMCO.

It is critical for the relevant department in the Education Ministry to proactively develop a set of SOPs specifically for postgraduate students, which they can follow and which will allow them to enter the campus and continue their important work, like other peer researchers in research institutions.

Our postgraduates are responsible citizens and will not flout the SOPs.


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