Friday, December 16, 2005

Times have changed ... a little

A friend of mine told me this story recently. She met a fellow Malaysian doing his PhD at Duke University. He got his medical degree from Taiwan, graduating among the top 5 or 10 students in his class at the National Taipei University. He went to a Chinese independent school and probably didn't get into the medicine program at a local U (my friend didn't ask). He's halfway through his 4th year here at Duke and he's ready to defend his PhD thesis. (For those unfamiliar with the US system, getting a PhD in 4 years is a remarkable achievement). But this post is not really about this guy. No, I'm not going into another one of those we've-lost-one-of-our-best-talents post.

Rather, I want to highlight his reaction when my friend, who's a Chinese, told him that she got a JPA scholarship to do her undergraduate degree here in the US. It was literally a jaw-dropping reaction. He couldn't believe that a non-Malay would have gotten a JPA scholarship.

In the midst of our griping, we sometimes forget to pause to notice small but significant changes in policy decisions. When my friend told me of this guy's reaction, I thought that it would be a good time for me to sit down and reflect on the specific issue of scholarships given out by the various arms Malaysian government. Instead of looking at the policies themselves, I thought that I would start by trying to remember all the non-Malays I know who have received government scholarships to study abroad.

When I was at LSE, I knew one MARA scholar who received a JPA scholarship to do actuarial science. He was part of a small group of non-Malays who did their A levels under MARA and later went to the UK for their undergraduate degrees. I met some of his friends, who were mostly non-Malay, who were at Manchester, Herriot-Watt and Imperial College under JPA. I knew of another non-Malay at LSE who was under a Telekom scholarship and another non-Malay in the year below me who was under a Petronas scholarship. One of the MARA scholars at Imperial later went to Oxford to do a PhD under another JPA scholarship.

Apart from the UK, I have a basketball 'kaki' who went to Purdue under a Tenaga scholarship. My cousin-in-law studied in NSW, Australia under a Tenaga scholarship as did another friend who studied in Sydney Uni.

Currently, all the JPA scholars who are in Duke (undergraduate) are non-Malays. I know of at least three of them. The friend of mine whom I mentioned at the top of this post did her undergrad at another US institution under a JPA scholarship (but is now supported by Duke). I know of another younger friend, also non-Malay, who's at Stanford under the JPA.

In fact, the experience of my Stanford friend showed an increasing sophistication in regards to JPA. He was one of the first batches which underwent a program after SPM specifically to prepare them to apply to the top schools in the US. He took preparatory classes in Sunway and was taught how to write essays in the US application process (which is much more strenuous compared to the UK process) and did a variety of courses.

Upon reflection, I have these two thoughts to offer. Firstly, I think there has been a change in JPA policy in regards to sponsoring non-Malays for an undergraduate education overseas. Granted, the bar for non-Malays is probably higher than for Malays, but a policy change is still a policy change. This probably explained the jaw-dropping look that the Taiwanese-trained doctor gave to my friend. Of course, I don't have the statistics to show if the number or % of scholarships given by JPA to non-Malays have increased over the past 10 years or so but my impression is that it has.

What prompted this change? Some people speculated that part of it might have been due to the 1999 elections. If this is true, then we should see the number of JPA scholarships given to non-Malays spike around 1999 and then drop for subsequent years. I don't have the statistics but I happen to think that this has not occured. Could it be that the people administrating JPA saw the inherent unfairness of not giving scholarships to well-deserving non-Malay candidates? Or was it political pressure by the non-Malay component parties within the BN? Or perhaps, the practice of giving out scholarships to non-Malays has always existed? It's hard to say without a more in-depth examination.

Opportunities for seeking scholarships from other government sources have also openend up. Petronas, Telekom and Tenaga are some well-known sources. There might be other sources which I'm not aware of (Bank Negara, the Securities Commission). If we expand the number of scholarships given to include local universities such as the ones linked to Petronas, Telekom and Tenaga, then I'm sure this figure would increase significantly.

Secondly, JPA is becoming more sophisticated in getting their scholars into top programs here in the US. As more and more scholars go through the US system, I expect the JPA staff to have a greater understanding of the strengths and weaknesses of the different schools here in the US thereby allowing them to help their scholars 'target' certain schools rather than others for specific courses.

Times have changed ... a little at least. Maybe 5 years down the road, it won't be so uncommon for someone to hear that JPA offers scholarships to non-Malays.

Perhaps a more important question than who gets what is the question of what JPA and other scholarship offering institutions are doing to retain the talent which they have sent abroad. Our country needs their human capital back home, regardless of race.

13 comments:

Tony P said...

The doctor's reaction is typical of many many Malaysians. Most non-bumis give up without even trying, not just for the government or GLC scholarships, but also for places in the local universities.

While the bar, as raised above, is likely to be significantly higher for non-bumis compared to bumis, the opportunities for non-bumis are definitely there should one chooses to take it.

I actually don't see it as a policy change, and if there is, it isn't a significant one. Even some 14-15 years ago, during my times, there were non-bumi scholars I know of under the JPA scholarship. Personally, I was a receipient of the Malaysian Tobacco Company (MTC) Foundation scholarship, which was probably a semi-GLC in terms of ownership.

My take for many top Malaysian students is that many just assumed that they won't get the scholarship/places and just don't bother applying. This may just reinforce the perception that the scholarships are just for bumis. Take the response from "rakyat" when I plugged for Tinkosong which highlighted several scholarships by Malaysian GLCs (e.g., MISC, Petronas etc.) - he asked if "these scholarships awarded based on merit"?

While we are clearly not at the state whereby our JPAs are awarding places and scholarships by merit, it is also equally untrue that no non-bumis will qualify for these awards. It's just a matter of meeting the higher "bar" - yes, it's more difficult, but definitely still within reach. :-)

All in my humble opinion.

Anonymous said...

Yes, definitely there are undergraduate scholarships for non-Malays, but the number and perccentage are low, and the qualitifications required are very very stiff, like A1 in all SPM subjects taken.

Non-Malays have also won competitive postgraduate scholarships, like the Perdana Scholarships to do Masters and PhD in top universities overseas.

Some are on merits, others less so.

Maybe the agencies concerned could publicise the figures to elaborate and to be transparent.

Anonymous said...

Oh I thought there are always non bumis scholars getting those scholarship. Just that the ratio of of non bumis to bumis is very very skewed. Let's take a midwest US university for example (I am not going to disclose the name of the university). It has about 200 plus Malaysians. In the student society, you have about more than 80% of them are Malays or bumis and very little ratio of them are non bumis and such. Also considering the fact these non bumis are mixture of Petronas, JPA and MARA scholars. So you can see, there are in fact very very few of them who actually get it to begin with. As years goes by, the number of non bumis decreases. I dont know about other school though but the example I mentioned above is what is observed so far.
Sure you have non bumis getting it, but it is ratio and real merits where the receiver of scholarship should be counted. The JPA scholars in undergraduate level is not something to be really proud of, for the bumis or Malays. Last I checked they needed people to come to give them counselling in order to keep their results, in check. Previously they have their requirement for JPA scholars or was it MARA to maintain GPA of below 3.0. This is a joke ok? Only most recently I heard they raise the standard to 3.0 gpa as standard.
So did the situation gets better? For undergrad level probably not yet. Not by longshot.

So the interesting question here, is the number of non bumi scholars so few is it because of ignorance of the public where they dont even try to apply for it like what is claimed by Tony? Or JPA or other entities are still practising the unwritten rules or special treatment of racial discrimination in order to award scholarship.

Disclaimer: This is just one example for the situation. So for the reader dont take it as a general situation as of what is happening out there. So who knows, other university might have different trends or scenarios for the scholarship issue.

P.Boy

Anonymous said...

i also have seen more non-bumis getting scholarship from JPA or other GLCs. i view it as a positive trend. we are not there yet as a fair society. but these are changes in the right direction. i hope these changes will continue.

on another note, we should not also forget the role of scholarship, that is to help the less fortunate. efforts must be made to inform these 'deserving' people of the scholarship. by 'deserving' i mean those from lower income. in my hometown (northern sarawak), no one knows about JPA until recently. the situation is the same in other less developed areas. the smart ones in these areas are left out.

a number of the scholarship recipients are actually from rich families. some are filthy rich. wonder if that also defeat the purpose of scholarship?

Anonymous said...

10 percent lor

as always if u very good and very stong cabling..

the rest of us F&M scholars mah or local U doing wat u never applied for..hehe..

Anonymous said...

i also have seen more non-bumis getting scholarship from JPA or other GLCs. it's a positive trend. we are not there yet as a fair society. but these are changes in the right direction. i hope these changes will continue.

on another note, we should not also forget the role of scholarship, that is to help the less fortunate.

efforts must be made to inform these 'deserving' people of the scholarship. by 'deserving' i mean those from lower income. in my hometown (northern sarawak), hardly anyone knows about JPA scholarship until recently. the situation is the same in other less developed areas. the smart ones in these areas are left out.

some scholarship recipients are actually from rich families. some are filthy rich. wonder if that also defeat the purpose of scholarship? the rich, who are better informed, benefit whereas the poorer less informed ones are left out.

perhaps, not only effort to make the scholarship more transparent, but also to widely publicize it.

Anonymous said...

A friend of mine received Petronas scholarship to do his tertiary education (up to Phd)in Manchester back in early 90s. There were cases like this but the number is very small. What I do know is that you have to be politically correct and have some connections in order to get it. I might be wrong. But the fact that there has been no publisity and transparency about this sort of scholarships has resulted in many people being unaware of it or somewhat skeptical about it. It is difficult to say if there is a policy change in this aspect until a more in-depth investigation is done on this issue.

Like-to-hear-from-them said...

In general, not many people are aware of this sort of scholarships. I doubt we are able to get further info on this from the authorities.

The best way is to have those scholarship holders to share with us on this issue. It would be more meaningful and worth Tony's effort in putting up this entry if those fortunate ones who had received these scholarships to come forward and shed some light on this issue.

Anonymous said...

I heard from another of my friend just now, saying that these malay scholars r mostly put to boarding school after form 3, so they r the pre-selected one to be given scholarships. Anyone heard of that? Since she work in the student association so she spoken to quite a few people about it. Just curious to know is anyone aware of it or is this system still running it this way.

P.Boy

Anonymous said...

I googled for name list of petronas scholars few months ago and out of the 54 petronas scholars, only less than 5 are bumis, some Indians and some Chinese. i think I did not come across any name of Sabah or Sarawak's bumi. Petronas has been extracting gas and petrol in Sarawak for decades, large chunk of their profits are contributed by the two East malaysai states, yet Petronas does not fulfil its social obligation to the bumis of Sabah and Sarawak. More Petronas scholars should be Sabahan and Sarawakian bumi.
I went to University of Otago in New Zealand. Malaysian Government used to send Medical students to Otago, and I had never encountered any non-Malay scholarships recepients. I did not meet any bumi from Sabah and Sarawak being awarded with the scholarships, this is just sad.

zibin said...

Remember, for JPA scholarships, all qualified candidates are drafted into the selection process. In other words, once you achieve a score orcertain number of As, you will receive a letter from JPA saying that you are entitled for the interview. This means that there are definitely way more non malays that would have gone for the interview, but the outcome is obvious that more malays receives the scholarship than the non-malays. My point is, yes many non-malays give up automatically thinking that government scholarships are meant for bumi, but for JPA's case, everyone is treated almost equal as far as the selection for interview is concerned. Meaning that most non malays would have gone for the interview and wanted it, but in the end didn't get it. So I am just trying to argue that for JPA's case, a large majority of the recepient are malays even if non-malays did apply (contrary to the fact that some think non-malays didn't apply)

However, having said that, I would also agree that getting a scholarship is not only a matter of aptitude, but also attitude. I am in a private uni myself and i realized if students have a keen eye, you will realized that there are gems lying all over-scholarship, international non-paying conferences and stuff. Its a matter of taking the first step to enquire, ask, listen. I myself have gone to many european trips fully sponsored by oversea organization/universities. I am also very aware of alot of scholarships offered. Well, these scholarships might not come from the THES top 10 uni, but they surely are good competitive uni. Its a matter of searching harder.And if u care to ask more, there are always studentship, tutorship and what not program to assist you if you want to aply postgrad. So i would say, really, is a matter of attitude. I know many A scorers that sit and wait to be fed, i know little A scorers that know how to dig for oppportunity.

Elanor said...

I am a recent graduate from Cambridge under a public-funded scholarship. Allow me to share my experience.

Indubitably, there are may public sector funded, non-bumis in the top universities in he UK. In my batch alone, there were many JPA non-bumi scholars, and some bumi scholars.

The crucial problem i noticed however, is not the quantity of scholars sponsored, but the number of scholars who were required to go back. For some of the bumis, they were basically from extremely rich Malay families in Malaysia who know from the very beginning that what they got were free state-sponsored education without strings attached.

For the non-bumis, who most of them were the best of their faculties in Cambridge, were not required to work off their bonds. They were told to just wait for six-months and they would be free. And now, they are iBankers in London, New York and so on, without any real plan to come back. Given the opportunities in Malaysia for them, why should they?

ps: around 200 JPA scholars (not including the more exclusive MARA scholarship) were sponsored in my year. Much less than half of those were non-bumis. I was not one of them.

Anonymous said...

I have always wondered why a non-bumi would want to come back. When at home, they face descrimination, and abroad, none or less, why not stay abroad?