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. He seemed to invite criticism and Guan Eng took a poke at Public Service Department (PSD).
Guan Eng claimed that PSD decides on the scholarship awards and they had offered the top scholars placement in local matriculation or diploma programs. He highlighted that scholarships should be given to the best students and instead awarding it to the worst.
MCA Youth secretary-general Datuk Chai Kim Sen replied to DAP as “instigating problems” but the message was in-sync to highlight the problem of “victimised” top students. 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 added on May 21st the "mistake" of not 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.
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 also rebuked Wee as trying to be a hero for criticising PSD. He reminded that Putrajaya never promised scholarships abroad to all SPM top scorers. Instead, the government can only commit itself to ensure 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 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%).
This subsequently lead to a retaliation from MCA with President, Datuk Seri Dr Chua Soi Lek stepping 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 Chinese interest element was obvious since Chinese usually dominate the top results.
Perkasa responded by demanding that 67% of PSD scholarship be awarded to Bumiputera in accordance with Bumiputera population. They attacked MCA and MIC to 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, DAP demanded for government’s assurance that all top students be awarded PSD scholarships. PKR responded through their Education Bureau Chief and former Federal Territory Education Director, Abas Awang, who pressed the Najib administration to abolish the race quota in PSD 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 was just MIC stretching their luck
to get more Indians included.
The Way Forward
Let's face the economic reality. The resource required to support a scholarship program is only money and it is in limited supply. No resources is available on unlimited basis. 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.
That is what MCA and DAP wanted. 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?
It is only self-serving for the Chinese interest and not even the other non-Bumiputera like Indians. When it is too bias in favour of one race, groups like Hindraf, Perkasa, 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, to justify more places for Indians.
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 other non Bumiputera 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 own experiance in University whereby a wealthy Perakian UMNO politician cum entrepreneur, manage to have five of his children to study abroad on MARA scholarship and loans. All these years, this blogger kept feeling that it was morally unfair despite it being legally right.
With money a limited resource and other budgetary constraints in fulfilling the demand for tertiary education, overseas education is a luxury the country can ill afford. The call by PROHAM is really appealing.
Scholarship should only be available for local Universities and the savings from sending students abroad help improve local Universities and get good professors from abroad. After all, what's the point of spending on overseas education when students refused to return upon graduation?
Overseas education should be limited to post-graduate studies and seeking specialist subject not available locally.
Since Government is not constitutionally bound to provide for tertiary education, making available scholarship for more local Universities students shed a positive light on Government. This is in addition to absorbing the cost of primary and secondary education.
The existing merit-based scholarship program to award top students is also not fair. Children from wealthy families stand to benefit on something they can afford.
Despite making more money available for scholarships for local Universities, it is not likely to be enough. Any selection criteria will still limit the availability of fund. The use of quota only answers the political questions. It does not solve the distribution issue.
The way forward is to limit access to scholarship in the same manner we advocated limiting the number of MRSM and boarding schools. Scholarship is meant for only the economically disadvantaged to meet their tertiary education needs.
By making scholarship as program to help the poor, it should stop leakage in the system to the middle class, particularly the Malays and Bumiputera, at the expense of the 60% income earners of the country earning below RM1,500 per month.
This is blatantly happening everywhere. It is high time that Malaysian middle class sacrifice their lifestyle and take-up responsibility for the education of their children. MACC should look to raid PSD, Government Departments, and agencies giving out scholarships.
Private sector can take up that slack by providing research grants, scholarship foundation as part of their CSR, and funding certain Departments or Graduate School program.
For those going for top Universities abroad at undergraduate level, one can't expect that on the Government. Parents should save up from the day their children were born.
Downsize on your lifestyle. You can't cut the cake and eat it too.
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