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Monday, May 30, 2011

Back to basics in award of scholarships


Back in December 2009, this blogger seek for a review in the role of MRSM and other boarding schools here. The number qualified has risen dramatically and boarding school does not meet the current role in education.

Boarding school is a misallocation of resources for elite middle class few over the masses. The role of boarding school must go back to the basic of assisting social mobility for the facility-deprived rural and urban poor students.

Few months back, this blogger was in the audience listening to Prime Minister, Dato Seri Najib Tun Abdul Razak's speak in the Parliament building. The gist of his speech is the new way forward for the country. The 1Malaysia Government will be fair to all.

In the reward of scholarships, he said the Bumiputera affirmative action program will remain in tact. On the same note he said, it is not fair that the straight As or A+s are not awarded scholarships.

The SPM result were just out.

Students are in a rush for placement into Universities and Colleges. Once places are secured, there will be a mad rush for scholarship. As happened for several years, the argument on scholarship resurfaced again.

Like the case of MRSM and boarding schools, this blogger advocate going back to basic. Government must face up to the economics of limited resources. Scholarships is a vehicle for social mobility of the rural and urban poor.

The Middle class, be they Bumiputera or non-Bumiputera, have to take responsibility for their children tertiary education.

Wee Ka Siong-Guan Eng Game


It started out with Lim Guan Eng criticising the manner public scholarship were awarded on May 20th. This was in response to Deputy Minister, Dato Dr Wee Ka Siong's suggestion a day earlier that students accept their offer before appealing to JPA for the University of their choice.

This is a far cry from the days Bumiputera scholarship recipents were told to accept whatever University and courses offered to them many decades ago. It seems JPA scholarship has no bond like before and have become a source for brain drain.

Wee has said a day earlier that some 363 straight A+ students who deserved to be funded to study abroad had lost out to those with lower grades and invited criticism from Guan Eng by claiming openning a space to say that PSD decides on the scholarship awards and had offered the top scholars local matriculation or diploma programmes.

Guan Eng attacked PSD and highlighted that scholarships should be given to best students and instead awarding it to the worst.

MCA Youth secretary-general Datuk Chai Kim Sen replied to DAP as “instigating problems” but was in sync highlighting about helping “victimised” top students. He said, “If DAP has any conscience in them, they should at least remain silent and allow us to handle this problem.”

And he went on to make a false claim that the prime minister had decided to give PSD scholarships to all students who achieve 8A+ in the SPM regardless of race.

Guan Eng replied on May 21st to highlight further the "mistake" ofnot granting scholarships to qualified students.

By May 22nd, MIC’s deputy minister in the Prime Minister’s Department, Datuk SK Devamany join the fray to seek an independent committee to investigate the scholarship distribution.

His concern is not so much about full A+ heartbroken for finding their applications rejected. He said 367 students had approached him, where 200 claimed of being rejected unfairly and 167 claimed of rejection for Matriculation and diplomas despite having 6As and 7As.

Devamany claimed students deserve scholarships for a degree programme of their choice. That indirectly brought the debate to another level whereby any qualified students deserve to be given scholarships to study abroad.

Getting Political

DAP national publicity secretary Tony Pua added more fire the next day, May 23rd when he said that role and responsibility to award scholarship be given to Talent Corp instead of being “sabotage” within the PSD.

This invited Perkasa's same day response. Perkasa, who has been watching the exchange and set-up from the side, spoke through their Information Chief, Ruslan Kassim.

He claimed many Malay students were being “unfairly” treated by the PSD as they failed to obtain financial aid despite being qualified. There have been widespread talk that competition for place and scholarship is competitive among the Malays that cronyism and nepotism practise is creeping in. It takes a "know who" to even secure only invitation to scholarship interview and more to secure schiolarship.

Ruslan reiterated that the federal constitution ensured that Malays were prioritised when it came to receiving scholarships and that remains an unquestionable fact in the special rights of Malays under Article 153.

Though Government and various political parties acknowledged the special position of the Malays with respect to reservation of scholarships, resources is no more unlimited since Government introduce the 55:45 ratio for Bumiputera to Non-Bumiputera and a special scholarship award on merit basis.

Minister in charge of PSD, Dato Nazri rebuked Wee as trying to be a hero and for criticising PSD. This subsequently lead to a retaliation from MCA.

Nazri reminded that Putrajaya never promised scholarships abroad to all SPM top scorers. Instead, the government can only commit itself to ensuring that all top scorers in the SPM be guaranteed places, be it local or abroad.

Government allocated 1,500 overseas scholarships to top students but only 300 were given based entirely on merit to students scoring straight 9A+. The remaining 1,200 overseas grants were distributed according to those qualified within four categories — Sabah Bumiputeras (5%), Sarawak Bumiputeras (5%), social composition or the population’s racial composition (60%) and socially handicapped (10%).

MCA President, Datuk Seri Dr Chua Soi Lek stepped in. He seek the BN government to review the racial quotas used to allocate the PSD overseas scholarships. While he claimed to support the quota for Sabah Bumiputeras, Sarawak Bumiputeras and socially handicapped, he hinted the 20 per cent quota reserved for meritocracy be expanded.

The self serving the Chinese interest element was obvious as Chinese usually dominating the top results.

Perkasa responded by demanding that 67% of PSD scholarship be awarded to Bumiputera in accordance with Bumiputera population. They demanded that MCA and MIC stay out of the scholarship row and not interfere in the affair of PSD. MCA and MIC responded by telling Perkasa to not be bigger than Government.

In the midst of the war of words between Nazri and MCA and MIC, DAP demanded the government’s assurance that all top studentsbe awarded PSD scholarships.

The PKR response was from their Education Bureau Chief and former Federal Territory Education Director, Abas Awang, who pressed the Najib administration to abolish the race quota in PSD for overseas scholarships.

The Association for the Promotion of Human Rights (Proham), through their Chairman Tan Sri Simon Sipaun called on the government to abolish overseas scholarships and for qualified students to be given financial aid to attend local universities instead.

This is in contrary to an Indian NGO, Malaysian Indian Student Association (Misa) president Kishur Goonasaran, who exchoed Devamany to demand that all students who scored 8A+ be awarded the overseas grants. This is just MIC stretch their luck

The Way Forward


Let's face economic reality. Resources and in this case, the resource required to support a scholarship program is only money and it is in limited supply. Nothing is unlimited. That's basic economics.

How do one maximise utility or the economics term for satisfaction for all parties affected by the demand for scholarship?

The ideal solution would be free for all with meritocrasy being the basis. The best qualifies.

MCA and DAP wanted it because it benefits their Chinese constituency. Multiracial PKR was almost saying the same but measured for overseas program for fear of being criticised of betraying Article 153.

But will it be fair to all?

When it is too bias on one race, Perkasa, Hindraf, and what name you will come in. To each, will come with their own argument.

Hindraf will use some general clauses in the Constitution and some sad Indian discrimination stories, lying the statistics if need be.

Perkasa will revert to the constitution. If they take the extreme to say that the Constitution does not impose on the Government the responsible for tertiary education of the races, they are not totally wrong.

However, the other side of the Article 153 argument is that it accords the same right to wealthy Bumiputera.

This reminded of this blogger's experiance of a wealthy Malay UMNO politician cum Entrepreneur, whose got five of his children study abroad on MARA scholarship. All these years, this blogger kept feeling that it was morally unfair but legally right.

With money a limited resource and budgetary constraints in fulfilling the demand for tertiary education, overseas education is a luxury we can't ill afford. The call by Proham is really appealing.

Scholarship should only be available for local Universities and spend the savings from sending students abroad to build up local University and get good professors from abroad. After all, what's the point of spending on overseas education when the students refused to return?

Overseas education should be limited to graduate level studies and seeking specialist subject not available locally.

The Government is not constitutionally bound to provide for tertiary education. It has absorbed the primary and secondary education. Government will still be seen in a positive light able to provide tertiary education scholarship.

The existing meritocrasy based scholarship program to award top students is also not fair. Children from wealthy families stand to benefit on something they can afford.

Removing overseas scholarship reduce the unnecessary budget constraint and allow more scholarship to be dish out. The question is now on the manner to distribute scholarships.

There is the use of quota but that only answer political question. It does not resolve the distribution issue.

The way forward is to limit access to scholarship in the same manner we advocated limiting entrance and need for MRSM and boarding schools. Scholarship is meant for only the economically disadvantaged to meet their tertiary education needs.

For those going for top Universities abroad at undergraduate level, one can't expect that on the Government. Private sector can take up that slack.

By making scholarship as program to help teh poor, the middle class, particularly the Malays and Bumiputera, cannot exploit the system with their "know who" at the expense of the poor 60% of the country earning below RM1,500 per month.

This is blatantly happening everywhere. MACC should raid PSD, Government Departments, and agencies giving out scholarships.

It is high time that Malaysian middle class take-up responsibility for the education of their children.

For those parents yearning for their sons and daughters to study abroad, save up from the day they were born and downsize on your lifestyle. You can't cut the cake and eat it too.

- Another Brick in the Wall

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