With more than nine in 10 of the applicants for the overseas scholarships offered this year by the Public Service Department destined to be disappointed, it does not take a rocket scientist to figure out that the education bureaus of Umno, MCA and MIC would be deluged with calls from disgruntled candidates, or that newspapers would be filled with sob stories about bright and industrious school prefects from poor families who did not make the cut.The whole scholarship picture becomes a tad absurd when one can practically picture journalist with ready written scholarship injustice pieces. All they needed was to eye any of the students with 10 1As and above who gets rejected and fill in the necessary blanks such as the name, number of As, subject of study, country intended etc. I must say that over the years, while the bulk of my sympathies has always been (and still are) with the students, a little bit of it has shifted over to the JPA.
Take the case of Yeo Chin Hooi. His plight was highlighted in the NST on Friday last week.
Yeo Chin Hooi swotted and crammed for 17 papers in the Sijil Pelajaran Malaysia examinations last year, hoping to get the grades to get him into medical school. The years of study paid off: He scored 15 A1s. He also got an A2 for English and a B3 for English for science and technology.Believe me, my sympathies are with Chin Hooi. However, whether, as one of his teachers put it, “Yeo deserved a scholarship because he was from a poor family and had studied hard,” and hence deserve an automatic place for a scholarship, is another matter altogether.
Son of a lorry driver and a factory worker, he dreamt of securing a scholarship from the Public Service Department. The dream was shattered yesterday.
In my opinion, nobody, even those with perfect scores deserves a scholarship award automatically. Naturally, those with top grades will have an edge in securing the scholarships, but the award should not be automatic as a fair few other factors do matter in the process. Readers may note that while I've written often with regards to scholarship woes faced by Malaysian students, particularly with JPA, they have always been with regards to the process and administration of the scholarships, and not with whether a candidate deserved the scholarship.
Hence I'll repeat again some of the points which I have raised before in an earlier post on scholarship reforms. The issue is not whether Chin Hooi should be given a scholarship, but the scholarship administration and process which needs to be thoroughly revamped to prevent the circus from repeating itself annually.
1. University scholarships should not be awarded after Form 5 (SPM/'O' Levels)
Why should a student, not even certain of university entrance (or at least which university) be awarded a university scholarship? What is the rationale for that?
In the past, the silliness of the process might not have been as serious due to the fact that the number of top scorers aren't that many. However, with as many as 10,000 students with comparable results of some 8As or more, the entire selection process to award the scholarships becomes completely unmanageable.
Is this the best way our limited tax payers funds and the country's resources are being utilised?
2. Is 30% of all scholarships allocated to Medicine students excessive?
I'm not in the best position to judge how important Medicine is relative to other subjects like Engineering, Economics or even Political Science. However, I'd like to think that reserving some 30% of scholarships for Medicine students a little excessive. Yes, despite the fact that Chin Hooi above failed to get a place among the 400 students given scholarships to study Medicine.
Here's some constructive suggestions for the relevant authorities for reform of the university scholarship administration and processes.
1. Create Pre-University Scholarships
Should scholarships be awarded after SPM, I believe that they should only be for pre-university courses which can take anywhere between 1-2 years. That way, all top SPM students can be awarded places for these courses without being subjected to subjective evaluations such as school testimonials or interviews. The scholarships awarded for these courses which are conducted locally should definitely be affordable.
The only possible exception to this is if the student have received entry into a top university overseas.
2. Undergraduate Scholarships
Overseas undergraduate scholarships should only be confirmed and awarded after the students have been offered a place at a top university. Why should scholarships be awarded to the students even before they have qualified for a place at a top university overseas?
The way I look at it, if Cambridge is happy to accept the student for a place to study Physics, there is little reason for scholarship to be denied to him or her. Unless of course, the student informs the scholarship body that he or she doesn't intend to return to motherland after completing studies.
This suggestion is also clearly supported (indirectly) by the Zahid Higher Education Report.
137. The Committee recommends that the practice of sending undergraduates overseas be reviewed. It is probable that only a small number need to be sent overseas to excellent and highly ranked universities to pursue courses in selected disciplines which are critical to national development.Our systems have resulted in many students receiving scholarships to pursue tertiary studies at universities overseas which are sometimes ranked lower than even the local public universities. I'm aware for example of students being sent on scholarship to countries such as Russia or Indonesia to study medicine.
Our neighbours down south do not send anywhere near as many students on scholarships overseas, and yet I've never heard of any annual “complaints” of denial of scholarship, despite their well endowed coffers. This is because it is clear that only students who qualify into universities of distinction overseas will be given an opportunity to secure a scholarship.
3. Scholarships for Medicine Studies
Malaysia is an interesting country whereby it appears that many students feel that it is the Government's responsibility to provide scholarships for studies in Medicine. As far as I'm aware, there are hardly any scholarships available for students pursuing medicine, and almost as few for those pursuing a degree in law.
Given that it appears that one of the strongest pull factor in pursuing medicine studies is the lucrative long term returns, whether as a general practitioner or a specialist, should the government be offering scholarships for these courses? It doesn't help that Medicine courses are by far the most expensive among all undergraduate degrees.
4. Distinguish between Student Loans & Scholarships
Now, not granting scholarships is different from not financing education. Students who don't qualify for scholarships should still have easy access to student loans at attractive interest rates to ensure that all qualified students are not denied higher education opportunities due to the lack of funds. This is also one of the recommendations made by the Zahid Higher Education Report.
107. The Committee recommends that no eligible student who has been offered a seat at an institution of higher education at diploma or undergraduate level be denied the opportunity to learn because of financial difficulties.Hence even if students like Chin Hooi whose scholarship was rejected (possibly with valid reasons), they should not be denied student loans to ensure that he could pursue his tertiary education in the courses of his choice.
I think its seriously time for JPA and other relevant government agencies to re-look at the existing scholarship scheme and processes to ensure that the country is making full use of our limited financial resources, instead of the current state of affairs which appear to be haphazard and poorly administered.
As for Chin Hooi (and others like him) – being denied a scholarship at this stage after SPM is not worth crying about.
"I don't really know what to do next. My heart is set on becoming a doctor, and I have worked hard for the last two years to achieve this goal," he said.There's still plenty of time and options available, even if he is absolutely certain that he wants to pursue a degree in medicine. Chin Hooi can proceed to complete his STPM or 'A' Levels or other equivalent qualification to obtain his place in either the local or foreign universities.