PTPTN: No need for students to borrow if Umno-BN stops plundering the national coffers
It is a fundamental right for everyone who is charged in court to have a fair trial, and for a trial to be fair, both sides must have competent lawyers. But if the accused can’t afford a competent lawyer, the state must provide one. Of course, those with money can engage good defense lawyers. But for those who can't, they will just have to swallow the unfairness of the system.
It is the same with education. Everyone in Malaysia has a right to education. Education is one of the necessities of life and nations which have developed have the best education systems are not surprisingly world leaders in almost every arena. As long as someone wants to get an education and is qualified to attend a certain course, then he or she must be given the right to pursue that knowledge. Is it fair if just because a person does not have the money, he or she is denied education while someone who is mediocre but has the money gets it?
Therefore providing education to its people is a must for any self-respecting government. It must ensure the right priorities in its spending priorities so that enough funds are allocated for education. The quality of education is also of utmost importance and the subjects taught must be relevant and improved with the times.
The UMNO-BN government has not been responsible
Unfortunately the UMNO-BN government has not been up to the mark in its responsibility to provide education to the people. Education in Malaysia has always been lopsided, controversial, inconsistent and getting more expensive by the day. There have been many arguments and discussions on the Malaysian education system but until now, there is no real direction at all.
"The bottom line is that education from the primary level to university level should be free," Opposition Leader Anwar Ibrahim said at a seminar over the weekend.
"And when we talk about abolishing PTPTN, we are talking about free education for all especially the poor. Not about using Petronas money to repay the exiting PTPTN loans."
Indeed, the most nagging problem facing Malaysian graduates today is the PTPTN, an acronym for the National Higher Education Fund Corporation, which has just been granted an additional RM6 bil to be lent to students for 2012 and 2013. "As at Feb 29, a total of 1.9 million borrowers had received funding from PTPTN to a tune of RM43.6 billion," Khaled Nordin, the minister of Higher Education, announced over the weekend.
But PTPTN loans have not gone down well with the people. These are 'imposed' by the UMNO-BN government on those who wish to further their studies, with many citizens believing that education is the responsibility of the government and should be free.
To offer the carrot of higher education by building so many new universities, but then only allowing Malaysians the opportunity to study in these places if they can afford it - and those who cannot afford will have to assume PTPTN loans - is unfair and ridiculous. It only leaves young graduates with a ton of debt the moment they begin their working lives.
Hence the unhappiness and threat by youth and students leaders to stage a protest on April 14. The fact is, our graduates are now facing great uncertainties over their future. Getting a job is the first and main difficulty. How then to repay the PTPTN? Even those lucky enough to find employment have problems as they have to juggle their PTPTN installments with having a family, caring for parents, housing loans, car loans and other necessities of life. All these need money, where is the government when it is needed, where is the promised social safety net?
To be fair, when the scheme was first launched, it was welcomed by youths hungry for education. But after graduation, they learned the hard way that as long as their PTPTN loans have not been settled, they are unable to enjoy peace of mind. In the end, most felt that their main purpose in joiningb the work force is just to pay the PTPTN loans.
Malaysia students began to ask, does not the government have a responsibility to raise the skills and knowledge levels of its people. Why must students pay their way? After all, when foreign universities get permits to operate here, they pay fees and annual taxes to the government - should not these be re-distributed to Malaysian students? Is this not part of nation building? Is the UMNO-BN government making money from the uncompleted cycle and siphoning away the funds midway?
Many of those who took the PTPTN now regret taking the loans. Firstly, they have to start paying back the PTPTN loans 6 months after graduation whether employed or not. If not they will be blacklisted and penalties will be imposed due to late payment. Of course, there are many who have balked at the unfairness of the conditions and refused to pay. But apart from the genuine cases, there are also many who are taking advantage of the situation to be very irresponsible. Some who can afford just refuse to pay because they prefer to spend their salary on other items. But by and large, the majority are genuine cases.
UMNO-BN has tried hard to provide certain repayment schemes to make it easier and more flexible but because of the sinking economy - again another problem that UMNO-BN is responsible for - salary increments just do not match or occur frequently and swiftly enough to compensate for the also increasing spending burden of the graduates.
Big rally on April 14
The tensions and frustration have culminated in student group Solidariti Mahasiswa Malaysia (SMM) deciding to hold a rally on April 14 to demand the immediate abolition of the PTPTN loans, a scheme they believe to be a burden, a social like opium, to university undergraduates.
Khaled, the higher education minister, was quick to respond by saying that if the PTPTN is abolished, Malaysia will go bankrupt. Yes, it is an odd logic. But to Khaled, if the government made education free, the private institutions will have to shut down as everyone would want to enter the public universities. He further pointed out that the government will have to build more universities, which it can’t afford. Moreover, Malaysia will not be the centre of learning for this region as envisaged.
"Our country’s tax revenues were RM169 billion last year. Under this year’s Budget, RM50.1 billion was allocated for the education sector, but only RM12.1 billion was designated for public universities. On the other hand, we see the total amount of loans approved by PTPTN was only RM6.1 billion, so in what sense can the government say they can’t afford to scrap it?” said Khaled.
Social groups immediately denounced and poked holes in his argument. Malaysia Reformist Student Club (Karisma) secretary-general Mohd Hafizuddin Abdul Mukti noted that even Sri Lanka and Mauritius have adopted a free education policy, alongside European countries such as Norway, Sweden and Scotland.
“Malaysia, as a country with rich natural resources such as petroleum and timber, has no excuse in not granting free education," said Hafizuddin.
Real solutions needed, not ad-hoc patch-ups
Other UUMN-BN arguments include that with free education, the students will not perform and many will take advantage of wasting time and delaying joining the work force. This is indeed a very negative take on our nation's youth. If so, it only confirms the UMNO-BN has done a lousy job in developing its society that the nations' youth can be such irresponsible laze-abouts. Whose example are they following here - UMNO-BN warlords?
Why can’t Malaysian authorities take the middle path? Some suggestions include the government converting the PTPTN loans to scholarship if the students can achieve certain marks, say 3.0 CGPA.
The PTPTN loans should also be interest-free and without any administrative charges as all the work done in administering the scheme should have already been budgeted for in the allocations to the Education and Finance ministries respectively. Other suggestions include, giving discounts if payments are on time and paid early.
But by and large, they are only ad-hoc measures to stem the cauldron that has been simmering for decades. It is due not to the quality of the youth in the country but to the management and leadership skills of the UMNO-BN. Above all, it has to do with integrity and corruption. If Malaysia was transparently and leanly governed, there is no reason why education up to university level cannot be free.
In short, the UMNO-BN government which has mismanaged almost everything for the past 5 decades must resolve the issues; not just giving excuses and simplified justifications. And we can see with the latest additional RM6 bil additional allocation, UMNO-BN is starting to finally realize that the youth are much smarter than they have been given credit for. They won't be fooled so easily.
If the Pakatan Rakyat led by Opposition Leader Anwar Ibrahim takes over the federal government, they have promised to scrap PTPTN. Given the response so far, UMNO-BN will have to do much more to match the Pakatan. It doesn't make sense to increase the allocations when the scheme is already so unpopular, is it? Some more genuine long-term structural reforms are certainly called for, not excuses and flimsy short-term patches.