A survey of 25,632 students from six public universities in Malaysia has revealed that more than half are left unable to afford a single meal a day due to the rising cost of living.

The recently-published survey, conducted by the Muslim Volunteer Malaysia Association, found that more than 50 percent of respondents cannot afford to spend MYR5, the equivalent of US$1.14, a day on food. Approximately 44 percent reported all they eat is rice, while a further 41 percent claimed all they can afford to buy are packets of instant noodles.

The Star reported that in many cases, students can only spare MYR1.50, or 34 US cents, a day on food, meaning many are forced to skip meals and are left feeling unwell. University-run organisations have announced that students are even fainting because they are so hungry when they come to class.

The issue has received increasing attention from both the public and the media since the Harian Metro, the Malay Daily, disclosed that a psychology student from the Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia had been admitted to hospital after suffering from ruptured intestines caused by malnutrition. The student blamed her bad health on only having MYR30, or US$6.83 a week, to spend on food.

Many student bodies are implementing programmes to help feed students who simply can’t fork out the cost of their three meals a day.

Most of these projects are drawn from the “suspended meal” concept, which allows financially sound students to pay for extra food in advance; these supplies are then dispensed among students who are in need.

One example of this is the “Project Suspended Meals 2.0”, managed by the student council at the International Islamic University Malaysia. This programme permits customers to buy coupons worth MYR2 or MYR4 (46 US cents and 91 US cents, respectively); the vouchers are then left for hungry students to claim as and when they need them.

Today, The Malay Mail reports that a Kuala Nerus MP, Dr Mohd Khairuddin Aman Razali, has suggested that the Malay government create a fund to help students cope with the rising cost of living by providing them with a monthly allowance.

The lawmaker requests that every student in Putrajaya be given grants of MYR100 a month, on top of any existing loans or scholarship funding the student is receiving.

“With that value, the amount needed by the government is only MYR367.8 million a year – in fact this value would be less if it’s only set aside for students at the undergraduate or diploma level,” said Razali. “This amount isn’t too big if compared to all sorts of ineffective expenditure and wastages by the government which can be seen through the Attorney-General’s audit report.

“If they are willing to give sponsorships in the millions of ringgit for programmes in the form of entertainment, culture and sports, then I am confident and I believe that there will be those willing to give sponsorship to the students that are the country’s most important assets in order to achieve bigger rewards alongside Allah s.w.t,” he went on.

The Minister then emphasised that these poor and needy students are the future leaders of the region, and they should be encouraged and supported through their entire education. Other government officials caused uproar by claiming that reports of students struggling to buy food are exaggerated and sensationalised and do not accurately reflect their current financial status. Khairy, Malaysia’s current youth and sports minister, compared the issue to the region’s growing problem with homelessness, claiming that students couldn’t possibly be starving if the homeless can afford food.

In a statement released today, the PAS Syura council has said: “University students are the ones that are fighting (berjihad) to acquire knowledge at higher education institutions and will soon become the leaders of a civilised race and nation.

“As such, those fighting for knowledge rightly deserve to be given assistance with all their affairs and be given assistance with all their life’s necessities.”

Image via Donate For Ummah.

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