Monday, April 21, 2008

Abolish JPA scholarships for undergraduates

RM500,000. That's approximately the amount of money which JPA spends to send one scholar overseas to study in the US or the UK. It probably costs a bit less to send a scholar to Australia but not by much. But the sad fact is that the % of JPA scholars who come back to Malaysia and work for the government in some capacity or another is close to 0%. Given that this is the case, JPA has two choices: (1) drastically reduce the number of JPA scholarships given out (2) implement a comprehensive system of making sure that JPA scholars come back and serve out their bonds in one capacity or another. I would go for option (1) given that (2) is very difficult to implement and carry out, at least in the short term. In other words, why waste RM500,000 on a scholar who is not likely to serve the government or even to come back to Malaysia?

This issue has often been discussed in this blog but I have to flog it again because once again, I've noticed that many of my friends who have received JPA scholarships or loans have not decided to return to Malaysia to serve out their bond. In one sense, I shouldn't blame them because:

(i) JPA does not make an effort to look for decent jobs for them
(ii) Even if JPA plugs them into the civil service, they will die of boredom because there is no specific program within the JPA which is specially catered for JPA scholars
(iii) JPA does not chase after them to repay their bonds / value of their scholarship (unlike for those who have borrowed money under the PTPN)

As the costs of an overseas education continues to soar, I really don't see the value of sending JPA scholars overseas for an undergraduate degree after which they are not compelled to come back to repay their bonds with a length of public service of some sort. You'd never see the Singapore government allow any of their PSC scholars and other GLC scholars given this luxury even though they probably could afford it more than the Malaysian government.

If the JPA cannot introduce some sort of human resource management program that is equivalent to a management trainee program for JPA scholars, then it is better for them to cut down the number of JPA scholars at the undergraduate level drastically. After all, how much does Malaysia benefit from spending half a million ringgit to send a scholar to Oxford or Cambridge who most likely won't return to Malaysia or even if they do, won't work for the government? It is likely that many of these bright young individuals would be able to find alternative sources of funding to go to Oxford or Cambridge. Even if they cannot afford to go to Oxford or Cambridge, it is no great loss (either to themselves or to the country) if they were to take a less expensive option such as doing a 2 + 1 or studying at Nottingham or Monash in Malaysia.

If they stay back in Malaysia, they will still be able to contribute to the economy. There is nothing which states that an Oxford or Cambridge graduate will contribute more to the economy compared to a Monash or Nottingham graduate.

In my opinion, I think it is much more cost effective and it would yield higher returns for the JPA money to be diverted towards sponsoring scholars at the Masters or PhD levels. Many of these scholars would be those currently studying or teaching in the public universities. And there is already a system in place whereby these scholars who get sponsored to go overseas are bonded and have to come back to their 'home' university to teach and serve out their bond. It is much less likely that the money spent on a PhD student, which works out to be about the same as sponsoring an undergraduate, will be wasted in a similar manner. It will also fulfill the government objective of raising the number of PhDs in our public universities.

This doesn't mean that the process of awarding of the PhD sponsorships should not be cleaned up and made more transparent. I've been a keen advocate of making that process more transparent in previous posts. Diverting resources in this manner would allow more deserving and capable scholars in our public universities to pursue their PhD programs abroad.

I know many parents and students will object to this proposal. But given that the money spent on undergraduate JPA scholars goes down the drain, at least from the perspective of returns to the country, I think that these objections are not very tenable.

In the meantime, I'd be interested to hear what our readers have to say about this!


Shawn Tan said...

My 2 sen.

Disclaimer: I am currently a government PhD scholar in the UK.

I am currently finishing up my PhD. I am someone who is interested in working in Malaysia, for personal and professional reasons. So, being the person that I am, last summer, I went home to speak to my sponsors about my future work. Since then, I have been periodically pushing them to let me know (1) what kind of work I'll be doing (2) the details of my future job offer. It's not like I have no other options. That's why I need the information to put everything on the table and evaluate them objectively. It's been months now, with email exchanges going back and forth to no avail. Promises of answers soon, have never been met. I keep telling myself to be patient but it's running thin now. I am beginning to get the sense that either (1) they don't have a suitable job for me, or (2) they don't want me.

So, I would have to say that your proposed solution is not without it's own problems either.

Anonymous said...

" JPA does not make an effort to look for decent jobs for them "

- being a qualified graduate, you need third parties to look for DECENT jobs for you ??? - ABSURD !!!

" Even if JPA plugs them into the civil service, they will die of boredom because there is no specific program within the JPA which is specially catered for JPA scholars "

- be creative, have initiative
and for heaven's sake the world does not owe anyone a living !!!

" JPA does not chase after them to repay their bonds / value of their scholarship (unlike for those who have borrowed money under the PTPN)"

- this is the worse kind of excuse... no chase no pay !!!

rediculous !!!

Little Bear said...


I think you are missing the point here. In a perfect world, people will pay up what they owe even though nobody will come chasing after them. But the fact is, banks ask for collateral for loans, Ah Longs use the threat of bodily harm and property damage, and the IMF will cut you off their aid programs if you don't repay their loans. If the JPA does not enforce any of its sanctions on the offending scholars, why would anyone want to fulfill their duties? It is human nature my friend.

On your first point, i think these people are very creative, if not they would not find ways to look for jobs overseas, so that they can work themselves out of working for the government. The fact is, if you have spent upwards of 5 years of your life studying at a top school for a top degree, you wouldn't want to end up as just another paper pusher in just another Malaysian government office. Unfortunately, these paper pushing jobs are the ones that is offered to our brightest minds.


Elanor said...

You are artificially constraining the options available. Not to mention that your proposal is politically infeasible.

I think there are many options open that could better serve the system; we just have to think beyond the conventional I guess.

For example, there is always an option to change the manner of some of the undergraduate JPA bonds. One is to consider a bond that instead of making you work for the public sector, merely 'bond' you to the country for a number of years. There is freedom on what you want to do, but you need to be in Malaysia for an X number of years.

Since the 'bond' involves only legal and administrative work on the part of the Immigration and perhaps the National Registration departments, I would deem that it will be much easier to enforce too.

This change is good in both that it could potentially lessen the brain drain problem and at the same time, provide scholars with much greater career freedom.

This is just a random example that I could think of now. I believe many more could be devised if we put more thoughts into it. I just do not think that the solution to the problem in the system lies in obliterating it.

Anonymous said...

think there are actually many many ways to go after the bond breakers, just that Malaysia doesn't have the balls to go for them.

Anyway aren't there supposed to be guarantors for the bonds? Go after the guarantors then. Bankrupt them. Lynch them. Do whatever is necessary to make them pay up.

The other way is to stop them from applying/renewing anything in the country, bank loans, property, car licenses, passport, or leaving the country if they were to ever step back in. Either way it's actually not to hard. But I suspect, they just don't want to do it...

reambeam said...

Elanor's suggestion is already being implemented in Spore, and the MNCs there are offering graduates jobs 9 months ahead of graduation ( first degree ) and they are bonded in Spore for first 3 years after graduation =)

Fino said...

The economic opportunities in Malaysia is booming. Why can't the private sectors in Malaysia keep an eye on JPA scholars' performance and tie them up before they get fished by others.

Anonymous said...

Agreed. The RM 2.1 billion dollars awarded to several select undergraduates could be better spent on improving the deteriorating conditions in public universities, thereby improving the lives of several hundred thousand undergraduates. When all that money is channeled into improving our own universities maybe students would *want* study in Malaysian universities instead of choosing foreign universities. Not only that, directing money into our own economy would improve GDP. The capital flight must be hurting us.
Besides, the idea of PSD scholarships is elitism in itself.

- a PSD/ JPA scholar.

sebol said...

with 504 bilion GDP last year
fed gov has enough money to spend on other kind of schorlarship without JPA scholarship to be abolished.

Anonymous said...

Overheard in a SPA interview for pegawai sains

" Jikalau anda jadi pegawai sains lepas ini, tugas tuan hanya lah sain "sign" dokumen sajer, dan bukan buat kerja sains "

Is there truth in the above?

tempinis said...

How's this for a radical thought? Send some of the JPA scholars to NUS or NTU? It will be much cheaper.

Anonymous said...

An undergraduate degree from top school alone will not contribute more than any other general degree. It is perhaps more efficient to spend the money on locally trained graduate to do their postgraduate/PhD overseas.They have been in the system and they are mentally adapted to the local scenario. The likelihood of them to continue stay and contribute to the local U is higher.

There are many examples where a totally foreign trained graduates failed to adapt to the local scenario, and leave the system soon after.

Also, to avoid our tax goes to some JPA scholars who are sent to some lackluster uni, why not let students applied to the top schools themselves and grant them scholarship whoever gets accepted?

H111 said...

Abolish it! Save the money to import quality prof to teach. I think RM 500,000 pa package can attract very good quality prof and that benefits more Malaysians.

timothy wong said...

You are absolutely right. The JPA scholarship program is spending too much money sending students abroad. We should take that money and bring change and improvement to local universities. That money could be used to give many more the opportunity of higher ed and avoids us sending out best and brightest overseas, instead investing them in our local institutions which will be good for our currently shabby universities.

Anonymous said...

all who commented in this post have brilliant ideas, but will the Education Ministry will really read this blog & consider suggestions???

hidup BN!!!

Anonymous said...

pumping the $$ into local public uni won't change a thing. the problems with our local uni are much bigger than the lack of funds. no matter what the salary, no outstanding prof will want to rot in a place that doesn't allow serious research...where 1/2 his colleagues don't have phd and will make life miserable for him because they feel threatened. chances are the $$ will just be spent on new signboards and renovating some deans' offices. if that's what u mean by making our uni less shabby, then sure, go ahead.

juraiza said...

Yes I am a scholar myself and I keep thinking how can I give back something to the community.

The government doesn't prefer me and likes to go through all those testing to choose other candidates.What can I do except find other work?

I think it's a waste that you sponsor all these education yet never used what you have. Untapped resource.Seriously.

I don't blame the scholar. They know themselves from day 1 they won't be hired by the government

Khai said...

To anonymous 4/23/2008,4:37:00AM:

So what do you suggest then? That we should not bother to improve our local uni anymore? Just let it to rot further?

Pumping more money won't necessarily improve the situation, but I am sure without sufficient funding, local uni won't improve at all. We just have to find ways of using the funding and monitor the distribution of fund wisely.

Situation in local scenario is bad. But if everyone would have the same negative attitude like you, I am sure we will dip further. Revamp the local uni is a must, as the local uni provides the only affordable higher education to many lower income families.

Anonymous said...

Hi Khai,
What we need is to create open competition and use tax payer's money wisely. Reward based on performance, creating a monopoly like a single education streams will only reward the incompetent. If every student go through the broken system, they would not have a chance to see a system that works and bring them back.
If UK/US is too expensive, send them to NUS, NTU.
The way the scholarship is rewardsed needs to be changed, but not abolished.


Anonymous said...

so freaking sad...all the taxpayers money going down the drain..i mean what have these so called high achievers scholars done for the country???? i thought JPA scholarships only for POOR, NEEDY AND SMART students but i tell you, in real life, they are given to children of RICH and FILTHY RICH families.I pray that someone is brave enough to expose this.

Khai said...

Hi Frank_c,

I am not suggesting we should abolish the scholarship that send students overseas. I am saying that revamping the local uni is far more effective,urgent and should be the priorty issue. I think it is hard politically, to sack all current rotten "academics". I think we should set up a brand new university, hiring only the best and 100% meritocracy. Then perhaps this role model could have spill over effect on other local uni.

It is obvious our public resource does not allow every good student to do their education overseas. However if students have proven themselves i.e: already accepted in top schools (undegrad or grad), then the system should just fund them. The system right now just let the bureaucrat interview the students, which is a complete crap.

On the other hand, like you said we need to be transparent on how our public money is spent.

Anonymous said...

hishamsuddin should not apoplogize 4 his keris waiving, instead he as the education minister should apologize 4 dragging down our country's standard in education!!!

Anonymous said...

khai, this is the anon u were responding to the 1st time. i totally agree that we can't write off local public uni. i don't come from a rich family, and if not for stpm and local uni, i would never be able to get a degree. all i was saying, is that finances are not the main problem with our uni. as long as there is no meritocracy when accepting students, or hiring and promoting staff, the money will not help. we need to get the framework right first, then whatever little money there is can start being spent in the right way. if we keep the wrong framework, all the money in the world would still be spent the wrong way.

Khai said...

Hi Anon@6.45am,

I agree with with your opinion that the current framework is wrong. Like you said revamping this framework is much urgent.I hope those stake holder can be determined in doing whatever necessary but politically this is just not possible.

My apology if my first reply to you sounded harsh. You first post gave me the impression that you are so negative,and suggest to give up on local uni completely.

Parvinder Kler said...

I was once on a Sabah govt. scholarship in Australia-I came back, they had no work for me and 6months later I applied for and got my release. I then worked in a local uni for a few months, and quickly applied for an Aussie PR and got the hell out of there. That was in 2000 and they said they'll send me to do my Ph.D in 2011!!! Thanks to the australian govt, I did it for free by 2006.

Fact is if the various unis and govt agencies were more pro-active I'd still be there. A lot of people overseas prefer it because we do feel unwanted in our own country. I had a spot to do my Ph.D but I had to wait due to issues of seniority and well, race...The former I don't mind even if my 'seniors' were failing their entrance examinations, but the latter was too much to bear.

JPA scholars go overseas and see a life where there are treated as individuals, not as a race-most may well be so-called 'privileged Bumis' but even they prefer being employed overseas in tasks other than 'pencil-pushing.' They too want to feel valued and do valuable work.

I suppose my convoluted point is 2-fold. One, short of threatening to execute the parents of JPA scholarship holders, they'll always be 'seepage.' We can best try to minimise it by providing a series of incentives to return. 2nd, short of a revolution in the domestic tertiary scene, I wish all Malaysians could spend 3 years studying abroad-it broadens the mind. On that fact alone, I think the JPA scheme must not stop, but by all means, make it more stringent.

Christopher Gomez said...

Khai and Anonymous...

The discussion you're both having is interesting. Most of the comments are relevant and are close to my heart.

How so? Well, I had parents and extended family members who could not quit reminding me on the price they paid for my freedom from slavery... errr... No wait... what the heck am I talking about? Sorry that was a line from Oprah.

But what I wanted to add to this is with regard to this below:

"You first post gave me the impression that you are so negative,and suggest to give up on local uni completely."

Khai, I respect your encouraging others to take on a more positive view... but I'm a thinking, even if someone were to have a view that you perceive/deem negative, his/her experience(s) are pretty different from yours.

If one is to "give up" on local universities, it is a decision. A decision based on a set of reasons. The same way we'd like that party to be open-minded to, for example, the options that local education provide, on the other hand it would be wise for us to accept the fact that he/she does not have to like the options studying locally provide, one bit. That's why I personally know parents who're near broke and still fund the education of their kids in international schools.

That out of the way...

= Parvinder's =
I think Parvinder's view on exposure from studying abroad is something that needs to be remembered seriously. I travelled a little, I've seen stuff. And because of what I've seen, I make decisions differently. And I laugh at everything. Yep. Even at death. That's something local university WILL NOT provide. Yep. Even laughing at death.

= Khai =
I love Khai's suggestion about setting up a new university that starts hiring the best academic talent, with the hope that this will rub off on all our present universities and future institutions being set up. I think this is an interesting idea, and would probably be a pretty expensive undertaking... but worth the try. Interestingly, Malaysia tried this with MUST... don't know what's happening there really. And also the near to useless LUCT and MMU. The studio I use to work for never hired fresh grads from both these two institutions. It was our way of protesting to the industry on the kind of talent we were getting from the Malaysian education system.

= Elanor =
I like what Elanor's is suggesting, i.e. bonding a scholarship recipient to the country, though I think executing this is a little tricky. This method has some merit but then what do I know? I am not as learned as some of our people in Gov ;)

I'm based in Singapore for a bit, working on a project for education and industry in Singapore which the Malaysian Gov messed up (I can prove this if forced to :) ) and missed out on (Yep, put me down as Exhibit C-1,082,953 for the defence, in the talent-drain trial). I see this bonding thingy being done here in the media industry. Pretty tricky execution, but can be done. There can be more improvements but, yeah... can be done.

= Anonymous 4/21/2008 09:40:00 AM =
To Anonymous 4/21/2008 09:40:00 AM, ...errr ...this is how you spell ridiculous :) (j/k)

Anonymous said...

I was a JPA scholar (been back for a while already). I don't think it's fair to say that we are an ungrateful bunch or that we are unwilling to serve the country.

On the contrary, I feel that quite a number of us are (or were) actually passionate enough to do whatever we can to repay the country.

However, sad to say that despite spending millions (and billions) of dollars sending students all over the world, the government doesn't seem to care where these students end up once they completed their studies.

For one, although we were required to "report" to the JPA once we return, there is simply no effective system in place that keeps track of every sponsored student. Some people came back and "reported" to JPA, some people didn't come back, but they did "report" to the JPA, some people didn't come back and didn't "report" at all. And did the JPA do anything about this? No. I don't think they know where all the students are anyway.

Technically, when you "report" to JPA, you are supposed to fill in a form (SPA 8, if I remember correctly) to apply for a job with the JPA. Again, there's no standard procedure here. Some did apply, some did not.

Well, I did apply. I even applied for a few different positions. I was selected to sit for a test for one of the positions I applied - the PTD. I passed the written test and went for the second round. It was some sort of a camp. There were about 200 of us (and I think there are several other camps around the country, so there's easily more than 1000 candidates at this stage out of the 30,000++ who took the written test).

We were split into groups at the camp and were given different "scenarios" to discuss as a group and to come up with a solution (did this once in Malay and once in English).
We also had to prepare and give two 5-minute speeches on various topics (one in Malay and one in English).
There were other activities too, which include a mock parliamentary debate, among other things.

While there, I noticed a few things:
1. Most (like 80% or more) of the candidates could not speak English (or rather, proper English).
2. The Facilitators themselves did not speak proper English (I still remember how one facilitator asked one of the candidates after the latter gave a speech on patriotism: "So, ARE you love your country?" I kid you not! And I thought these people should have a good (if not excellent) command of the language because they are "diplomatic" officers)
3. The topics given were not challenging (read: they sounded like your typical SPM essay questions)
4. Out of the 200 there, there were only 2-3 non-Malays (but, there could be many reasons for this)

I failed this stage (must be my bad BM =P and my way too liberal aka "westernized == evil" thoughts)

A few of my friends who were JPA scholars who went for the same test also failed the "camp". I know a couple who actually passed only to fail at the 3rd and last stage - face-to-face interview. I don't think race is necessarily a factor here. The common denominator among us (all JPA scholars who failed the PTD) is not race but liberal thoughts (read: "westernized").

Needless to say, all of us are working with various MNCs around Malaysia now. And since I went through the process and they didn't call me for other interviews and didn't offer me a job (I applied for a few others too), I am no longer "bonded". They even sent me a nice little letter saying that I am "free" from my contract.

So yes, it's a mess. They spent all that money but they don't really care about getting the students to come back. And even when students do come back, most often than not, they are not hired (or even called for an interview). Lest you think otherwise, we all did very well in college and managed to secure good-paying jobs elsewhere.

Anonymous said...

anon 4/30/2008...funny isn't it?
1. an overseas education gives u exposure and teaches u to see things differently
2. jpa apparently does not like u to come back seeing things differently
3. so why in the world does jpa still spend money sending students overseas?

bubbles said...

The government should have a system to control all the JPA scholars. I guess Malaysia need to learn more from the Singapore government. Malaysia government should be more open-minded but not always PROTECT the bumiputras.
Students who studied in Malaysia would be different from those who graduated in foreign universities.
JPA scholarships are meant for those students who got perfect results. Then, who cares about those students (better than mediocre but not as good as the top students) who have financial problem?

Anonymous said...

I'm a JPA scholar studying in a local private medical school. I'm grateful for the opportunity given to pursue a medical degree without placing a huge financial burden on my parents. Therefore as much as I am dreading getting "into the system" the moment I graduate, I think it's absolutely reasonable for me to give 10 years of service to the government that completely funded my education.

However, I am all too aware of the reasons my fellow scholars would prefer to carry on with their lives overseas rather than come home to their nasi lemak. Having studied a couple of years overseas before commencing university here, it is easy to see why it is difficult to return to the way things are here - inefficient, substandard, apathetic - once exposed to the civilised manner in which matters are dealt with in foreign countries.

I agree that scholarships, especially those for overseas programmes, should be awarded much less wantonly and there needs to be a better "tracking" system to hunt down errant scholars who refuse to pay back what they owe. In fact, they should be prosecuted in a court of law.

However, there also needs to be a revamp of the "Malaysian system" as a whole if the government is to decide to channel the money towards local programmes or do a better job at providing employment opportunities for the returning scholars.

Local universities need to buck up in terms of moulding researchers and educators that can become qualified deans who are interested in improving the students and not merely being Datuks raking in the salary that comes with the position. Only then can scholars gain the education they deserve. That means better research opportunities and appointment of deans according to their qualifications, track record and dedication and nothing else.

Besides that, it's time the government recognises talents and reward them for their brilliance. I am most dismayed by news of outstanding students being overlooked by JPA and subsequently winning scholarships from Singapore, US or UK. Exactly what kind of message does that send to the brains of this country? And then we whine about them being ungrateful when they decide to remain in the country that acknowledged their talents instead of returning to the homeland that ignored them.

Anyway, the bottom line's hard to want to come home and serve a country that shoves patriotism down our throats but does little to earn the love of its people. I would think that most of the time, it's not the scholars who have the "kacang lupakan kulit" attitude, but the fact that they have lost faith in Malaysia's ability to fully tap into the knowledge and exposure they've gained overseas.

I was saddened by the statement of someone who said, "It's only now in UK that I know the sky is the limit." It says something about the kind of limit imposed on our scholars when they come home, doesn't it?

Anonymous said...

Korang tak perasan ke JPA sekarang sponsor student not for goverment only, but to the nation. If JPA nak sponsor just for the goverment, course engineering memang takkan dapat sponsorship la. Berapa ramai sangat engineer yang JKR nak pakai?

So, sekarang ambil faham la, JPA dah memang nak tolong rakyat Malaysia...

Anonymous said...

As long as the root cause of the problem in the country is not addressed, then it's just going round in circles. What is the root cause?

Anonymous said...

Msia gov useless LA!
I am extremely discontented with the fact that I am not awarded a scholarship despite having excellent results and being active in extra curricular activities, till now. I am currently studying in NUS. over here, i see many people whom are in the same boat as me. conclusion, brains do not guarantee a scholarship, race does! and not to forget, JPA want to send people to NUS and NTU? hmm... can they qualify?
as for me, i will NOT work for the msia gov. it is like your parents telling you, "hey im sorry you are not my favourite child, i dont want you". and few years later, when all their favourite children are gone, they plead to you, "can you please come back and take care of me". my response "F*** u!" with so many natural resources, it is still so left behind. i would like to think that the problem lies behind the policies. let's pack our bags and not come back.

Local grad said...

10/28/2008 07:04:00 PM

I agree with you. Brains does not guarantee a scholarship and having
"excellent results and being active in extra curricular activities" does not guarantee a civilised person.

I think Malaysia will benefit if educated people like you who aspire to change the problematic situation after gaining experience abroad rather than an educated scholar who resorts to the usage of expletives when you don't get what you want in life from the government.