If you read the online forums, newspaper columns and even politician's statements, there are plenty of complaints with regards to straight As students being denied scholarships. In my opinion, straight As students do NOT automatically deserve scholarships. (However, they do deserve automatic places in courses and universities of their choice, barring exceptional circumstances such as over-demand in the medical faculty).
However, if the candidate is a top student and is able to secure a place at an elite university, then his request for a scholarship should definitely deserve greater weight.
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?Calvin Teng appears to be the case of a candidate who is possibly not provided with the "added advantage" in the current system. Based on the proposed new system (by me), he will at least have a better opportunity in receiving a scholarship from the Government.
Calvin has already gained acceptance into University of California, Berkeley to pursue a degree in Mechanical Engineering. In the US News.com rankings of US universities, Berkeley is ranked 20th overall, but joint second with Stanford University, after Massachusetts Institute of Technology for Engineering. In the Times Higher Education Supplement (THES) global rankings, Berkeley is ranked 6th in the world overall, and 2nd for Technology. Unlike our local college wannabees, no one will dispute that Berkeley is indeed a "world-class" university.
I've spoken to Calvin over the phone and he definitely sounded fluent and is a positive and confident individual. The only "glitch" in his SPM was a '2A' for his Biology, out of 10 subjects. He was the top student and debater at St Xavier's in Penang and his impressive list of extra-curricular activities and achievements is probably too long for me to put it down here. Calvin's musically talented as well, being the youngest violinist in Penang State Symphony Orchestra.
Unfortunately for Calvin, after attending an 30-minute interview with Jabatan Perkhidmatan Awan (JPA) for the JPA scholarship as part of a group of 10 (or so) individuals, his application was rejected. And given that his parents are middle income earners, a degree at Berkeley will not be possible without scholarships or financial aid.
Calvin is not alone in his plight. Wei Shen from Teluk Intan, who has completed his STPM (and got 5As) last year has qualified for both Cambridge University in Britain and Cornell University in the United States as highlighted by the Star but is facing difficulty raising the necessary financing.
So the question I have for JPA and other relevant government agencies in administering our national scholarships is this:
Which is more important and which makes more sense for Malaysia?
- Award overseas undergraduate scholarships to post-SPM students who have yet to undergo pre-university programmes or examinations, and have not secured any placements in top universities overseas? This has often resulted in students being sponsored to study in 2nd or 3rd tier universities in Britain and the United States, as well as being sent to other 3rd world countries. OR
- Award overseas undergraduate scholarships only to students who have successfully completed pre-university programmes or examinations and have received conditional or unconditional acceptance into the top-rated and most selective universities in the world, such as University of California, Berkeley or Cambridge University, UK?
In Calvin's case, I'm confident that his intelligence and resourcefulness will take him places, even if he couldn't get to Berkeley this time round. However, it is imperative for the scholarship policy to be reformed to ensure that we are rewarding and incentivising the best in the country, even after taking into consideration affirmative action policies.
Footnote: If there is anyone out there who seeks, and is able to provide assistance to Calvin, please email me separately.