Monday, July 28, 2008

Best IMO performance for Malaysia

Got an email from Shien Jin, a former International Math Olympiad (IMO) representative, about Malaysia's best performance at the IMO this year (2008). We ranked 55 out of 93 countries and for the first time, one of our competitors, Loke Zhi Kin, obtained a silver medal for Malaysia. Indeed, his score of 24 beat out the top scores for the Singapore team, even though the Singaporean team as a whole still beat us (ranked 32 versus 55). And for the first time, 5 out of 6 competitors from Malaysia received at least an honorable mention.

The full history of the IMO competition can be accessed here.

Malaysia's history in the IMO has not been a good one. Our best ranking before this year was 59 out of 83 in 2001. In the first year which Malaysia was in the competition, 1995, we ranked 72 out of 73. Last year, in 2007, we ranked 74 out of 93. We jumped almost 20 ranking positions from 74 to 55 this year.

The first time Malaysia won a bronze medal was in 2000, when Shien Jin (who went to MIT for his undergrad and Harvard for his PhD) and Suhaimi Ramly (who went to MIT). They would have gotten a higher ranking for Malaysia if Malaysia had sent more than 3 competitors (lack of funding, I was told).

Suhaimi was the 'observer' for the Malaysian team this year, meaning that he was the trainer for the team. And with Suhaimi, who's also the executive director of Aidan Corp and a co-founder of Ardent Education Consultants, in charge of training future teams, I'm sure that this is a sign of better things to come for the Malaysian IMO team.

A cursory look at the IMO historical results makes for interesting reading. Some of the usual suspects dominate the competition - China, Russia, USA. Japan, South Korea and Taiwan do well as well as do some of the former Eastern European countries - Bulgaria, Poland, Romania and Hungary.

But I was surprised to see Thailand ranked 6 and Vietnam ranked 12 this year. Iran is also a powerhouse in the IMO competition!

In addition, the Nordic countries, who do well on most other indicators (HDI, competitiveness, education standards) perform so so only. India also does not do as well as one might imagine, with all that brainpower.

My sense is that countries who do well in this competition probably have 2 common practices. Firstly, they probably have a fairly open competitive process to select the participants. This is to ensure that the net is cast wide enough such that the best competitors are selected. Secondly, they probably have a fairly well developed training regiment where the skills of these participants are honed.

I'm guessing that China probably throws tons of resources at the selection and training of these candidates much like how their gymnasts and other athletic prodigies are selected and trained.

Obviously, it would be unrealistic for us to compete against the Chinese, let's say. (5 gold medals and 1 silver!) But Suhaimi tells me that a goal of achieve 100 total points for 6 competitors is realistic. This would put Malaysia at around the 30th position, on par with what Singapore achieved this year (98 points, 32nd position). I feel pretty good about our chances with someone like Suhaimi in charge.

Friday, July 25, 2008

Vocational and Technical Training

Vocational and technical training doesn't get much airplay on this blog. Probably because neither Tony or myself are familiar with how it works in Malaysia. But it is an important component of the education system.

The Star reported that the MOE was in the process of revamping its vocational and technical training programs. It didn't exactly say how it would be revamped or what was wrong with it now.

I say that vocational and technical education is important because not everyone should be expected to take the path of going to a university and getting a university degree. Some people prefer to take a non-academic path because this is where their passion and interests lies. As such, having a good vocational and technical training and education program is important to ensure that students who are inclined towards these sectors have a respectable channel to pursue skills in this area.

In Germany, for example, apprenticing with a mentor in a 'skills' industry is a perfectly respectable career choice. One of my favorite American comics, Jay Leno, sponsors a scholarship for auto-mechanics to McPherson college and he's mentioned on his show that many of these graduates make good money - more than $100,000 a year (which is about what recent MBA graduates earn).

In Malaysia, I don't think there are such channels. Making the pursuit of these skills (being a mechanic, electrician, plumber, carpenter, etc...) more respectable is one of the ways to reduce school dropout rates and to increase the skills and earning power of those who do not lean towards the academic arena.

Since this area is more or less a black hole for me, I was wondering if any of our readers who know more about this can write a post enlightening us on the state of vocational and technical training in Malaysia?

JPA doctors don't want to come back

Yet another example of how JPA scholars are blatantly flouting their bonds. The Star reported that '236 medical graduates studying overseas under Public Service Department scholarships refused to return home to work.'

Monday, July 21, 2008

Meritocracy examined

Just wanted to point our readers to an insightful analysis done by 'unwanted citizen', someone who's clearly in the know about the medical faculty and intake at University Malaya (UM). My conclusion from his analysis is this - there has been a more transparent implementation of meritocracy, meaning that those students who perform well in STPM AND Matriculation, are getting into the medical program at UM. The clear losers from this are the bumiputeras from Sabah and Sarawak.

Sunday, July 20, 2008

'Cosmestic' changes to the UUCA criticized

We've been anticipating the proposed changes to the UUCA for some time now. Both Tony and I have blogged about this in the past - here, here and here - and we both agree that the UUCA is too restrictive and needs to be reformed. But according to this latest Mkini report, the proposed changes to the UUCA are purely 'cosmetic'.

I haven't read the proposed bill which details the changes in the UUCA but according to the Malaysiakini report reproduced below, it still bars students in public universities from joining political parties and allows the VCs and the Minister for Higher Education way too much latitude in deciding which organizations students were banned from joining.

Firstly, I think this kind of ban borders on being unconstitutional. What ever happened to freedom of association? Secondly, with this kind of suppression of political activities among university students, is it surprising that we have about 5 million unregistered voters in the country, a majority of whom are below 35 years of age?

Students slam 'cosmetic' changes to UUCA
Tarani Palani and Rahmah Ghazali | Jul 18, 08 1:21pm
Student leaders have described the proposed amendments to the Universities and University Colleges Act (UCCA), the law which regulates their participation in political activities, as “cosmetic”.

"We do not agree with the amendments, and as we have suspected, the suggested amendments do not solve the difficulties faced by students (in political activities),” said Faridzul Nasarudin, a researcher for University Students’ Movement to Abolish UUCA (GMMA).

“The amendments are superficial and politically cosmetic."

He said the proposed changes to section 15 and 16 of the bill, which are made by the Higher Education Ministry, did not amount to much.

"The language used does not give students any concrete freedom. We can see that the decisive power still very much lies in the hands of the university administration and the minister."

Under the existing Act, students in Malaysian universities are not allowed to participate in any organisation that is political in nature.

Section 15(1) in the amended bill stipulates that students must still abstain from political activities, despite the provision allowing them to participate in “general organisations”. Even in this, the final say is with the higher education minister and university administrators.

According the amended section, university students “may become members of any society and organisation in or outside Malaysia”. But it bans student participation in “political parties, any unlawful organisation, and any organisation which the minister has specified in writing to vice-chancellors as unsuitable to the interests and well-being of the students or the university”.

Faridzul lamented that the proposed changes continue to restrict student activitism.

“Although some of the amendments open the door for greater student freedom, the limitations set are against human rights.”

Student leaders make suggestions

GMMA representatives yesterday handed a ‘suggestion paper’ on the organisation’s views regarding the amendments to Lembah Pantai MP Nurul Izzah in Parliament.

Co-coordinator Ridzuan Mohammad stressed that students are capable of critical thinking and have followed the law by submitting their suggestions and not taking to the streets to voice their dissatisfaction.

"We have not acted rashly. We have the capability to think intellectually and thus we are submitting this suggestion paper. At least, we have not organised demonstrations."

raja petra court case 060508 nurul izzahNurul Izzah (right) backed the students and argued that the proposed amendments fail to reflect the demands and aspirations of students.

Meanwhile, Segambut MP Lim Lip Eng, when asked, stated “the amendments still have a lot of restrictions, with an ambiguous section 15."

Batu Gajah MP Fong Po Kuan - a law graduate of the International Islamic University - added that the much-awaited amendments are “disappointing as it still restricts student involvement in politics”.

However both parliamentarians conceded that there are improvements in the proposed amendments.

According to Lim, those who breach the UCCA will now face a ‘disciplinary action committee’ instead of being charged in court.

Fong said that previously anyone found guilty would be subjected to immediate suspension but now the decision lies with the discretion of the vice-chancellor.

GMMA has also presented its suggestion paper to Backbenchers Club (BBC) chairperson Tiong King Sing on Tuesday.

According to Ridzuan, the backbenchers chief said he was not in favour of abolishing the UCCA but was willing to support amending or removal of certain sections opposed by students.

The ministry has tabled the amended bill on Wednesday night.

However, the higher education deputy minister requested debate on the bill be put off to the next sitting of parliament in August.

Parliament ended its current session yesterday.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Seeking Malaysians with US Masters or PhDs

Doing this as a favor for a friend who is doing her PhD in Kentucky. Please see below and see if you can help her out.

Re: Seeking Malaysians for PhD research

My name is Pauline Chhooi and I am a Ph.D. candidate majoring in Educational Policy Studies and Evaluation at the University of Kentucky. I am writing to ask for your help in my dissertation research that that will look at how a journey to a foreign land to pursue a graduate degree might trigger more than just the attainment of that degree. I propose to look at how higher education contributes to understanding the immigration of highly-educated individuals, the push-pull factors for remaining (in the USA) or returning (to Malaysia), and the effects on the government and especially individuals.

For my dissertation project, I am seeking Malaysians (including those who are now PR or naturalized U.S. citizens), age between 23 and 50, who have already earned an American masters (i.e. M.A., M.Sc., etc.), doctoral (i.e. Ed.D., JD, Ph.D., etc.) or terminal professional degree (i.e. MBA, MD, law degree), currently working/living in the U.S. or in Malaysia on a permanent basis (i.e. not on official overseas work assignments or as visitors/stay-home parents are considered).

The project will involve a one-hour interview which will be done face-to-face OR over the phone OR via Instant Messaging (IM chat or voice), depending on the convenience and location. All I need is to ask you a few questions about the your decision-making process and how you come about to choose where you live now (ie. remained in the USA after your studies, or returned to Malaysia after your studies or after a few years of working in the USA, etc.).

Your participation in the study is voluntary and your responses will be kept confidential. You may decline to answer specific questions or end your participation at any time by letting me know. Although the
interview will be audio-recorded, all information will be reported in a form that does not identify you. You will be given an Informed Consent Form which will provide more details about this study before you begin.

If you would like to help me in my study, OR know someone who could, please contact me at Also, if you have questions about this study, please do not hesitate to contact me.

Thank you in advance....hope to hear from you!

Pauline Chhooi

University of Kentucky

Yahoo IM: paulinechhooi

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Vice-Chancellor Selection Committee

Hi guys, yes, I've been posting only sporadically on this blog in recent weeks but I've certainly not forgotten about it. Thanks to Kian Ming for keeping the blog going. I've been posting several education related articles, but due to some of the political nature, I've placed them on my personal blog. The latest being the controversy of the ADUN of Subang Jaya, Hannah Yeoh being banned from attend her own alumni's prefects reunion(!).

I've also paid special attention to education issues in parliament, hoping to eke out answers from the Ministers on the various issues which has been raised by the bloggers and readers here. Unfortunately I still have to fight for attention in the Dewan to get a chance to question the Ministers, I did managed to do so on a handful of occasions.

Of interest is the on-off-on-off vague issue of a vice-chancellor selection committee which has been the subject of discussion on this blog for the past 2 years already.

Over the past 2 sessions, the Minister of Higher Education, Datuk Khaled Nordin has stated that there will be a vice-chancellor selection committee being set up without providing any details. I pursued the matter, as recorded in the Hansard on the 9th July:
Tuan Pua Kiam Wee [Petaling Jaya Utara]: Terima kasih Tuan Yang di-Pertua. Tadi
menteri telah membangkitkan satu Jawatankuasa Pemilihan bagi naib canselor. Saya hendak minta penjelasan sedikit, adakah shortlist yang dibuat oleh jawatankuasa ini akan diberikan daripada kementerian ataupun shortlist akan dicari ataupun disediakan oleh jawatankuasa ini dan apakah kuasa yang diberi kepada jawatankuasa ini?

Adakah ia akan diberikan kuasa supaya dapat membuat advertisement di suratkhabar-
suratkhabar seluruh dunia untuk mencari calon-calon yang terbaik untuk menjadi naib canselor universiti kita? Terima kasih.

Dato’ Seri Mohamed Khaled bin Nordin: Ia boleh dilakukan melalui kedua-dua cara.
Satu daripada top down daripada kementerian dan satu lagi daripada Select Committee dan dari segi tatacara dan sebagainya, kita belum lagi memikirkan secara mendalam sama ada ingin membuat pengiklanan seluruh dunia dan sebagainya ataupun tidak, kerana semua itu akan mula dilakukan setelah kita buat pindaan kepada Akta Universiti dan Kolej Universiti yang mempunyai ataupun yang akan menyentuh mengenai perkara tersebut.

In short, that means that there's still no authoritative details on how this committee will work, whether there will be strong interference from the Ministry, on the process of recruitment and just about everything else about the selection committee. Its a little unfortunately that despite this committee being talked about since the previous 2 higher education ministers, we still have to wait for the next parliamentary session before we hear new developments.

At the speed the Ministry is moving, its not surprising that our institutions of higher education isn't going to get any better any time soon.

Friday, July 11, 2008

Agong Scholarship

For those who are below 30 and want to pursue a Masters or a PhD, check out the Agong scholarship. 12 scholarships, 6 for Masters programs and 6 for PhD programs, are up for grabs. Deadline is 6th of August, 2008. Good luck!

BTN brainwashing

I'm not surprised by the brainwashing that goes on in BTN (BiroTataNegara) sessions in public universities. I would like to attend one just for the experience. In the meantime, check this blog post by someone who did attend one such session. I'll reproduce it below and let our readers react as they see fit. Someone should record one of these sessions and see what the public reaction is like once its posted on youtube.

(NOTE: This is an email i received from a reader exposing the latest brain washing tricks deployed by UMNO's apparatus called Biro Tatanegara(BTN). Mind you BTN is 100% funded by tax payer's money)

Biro Tatanegara. Does it ring a bell? Government propaganda or honest student development programme? For those who aren't aware of it, Biro Tatanegara or BTN for short is under the Jabatan Perdana Menteri and it has several modules which all public university students have to attend in the name of "Student Development". On the 6th of July 2008 in UiTM Shah Alam, there were three separate talks being held under BTN with the first one being titled "Pendidikan", second one titled "Ancaman Keselamatan Negara" and the third one titled, "Patriotisma". Smell anything funny yet? No? Read on. You won't even have to smell it after you are done reading this. It'll be stuffed down your throat.

I would like to only focus on the first speaker, Dr. Idris bin Md. Noor. He was supposed to talk about education as that was the title of his speech, but the content was far different. He first went on with the usual introductions but in less than a few minutes, he suddenly touched on the forum on the discussion of social contract in Malaysia that the BAR council organized. He criticized it with all his heart, saying no one should discuss about it as it is unquestionable. Fair enough, I thought at first. Freedom of speech right? But what if he suddenly accuses the "Malay" speaker in the forum, which I'm guessing is Farish A. Noor, as a traitor to the Malay race as a whole? And while he was browsing through his files on the laptop which was projected on the big screen, it was no surprise for me that I saw files entitled "Ketuanan Melayu". He also then went on about the Malay's obsession with magic and ghosts, he said that it is all wrong beliefs through the perspective of Islam because if they really could use magic and other dark arts for fighting, then they should kill Karpal Singh with it.

There are so many quotable sentences, if only I could remember it all. He even said, "Kalau ular dengan India depan mata, ketuk India dulu." He then started to become more impassioned in his speech towards the end, like someone campaigning for a political seat yet failed, and resorted to a multi-purpose hall with bumiputra students. He said so many atrocious things that I will list them down in point form.

-Explained how the Malays aren't racist but others are racist towards us.
-Bangsa Malaysia does not exist, neither does Malaysian Chinese and Indians, only in the strict Malay, Chinese and Indians. (Interestingly, behind a booklet provided to us, one of the objectives of the programme is to produce a -"Bangsa Malaysia". Obviously, he was ignorant).
-Bahasa Malaysia does not exist, it is Bahasa Melayu.
-Nothing wrong with waving the Keris.
-Bumiputra hanya 55% di Malaysia, give birth more people!
-The University and Colleges Act was partly made to ensure a Malay Vice-Chancellor in Universities which should be the way.
-Blogs are "berdosa" or sinful.
-Christians will not like Muslims.

But that isn't even the best part. The best part is, he showed a short film on the
dangers of Zionism and the illegal occupation of Palestine which was probably the only part of the speech I agreed with and I thought to myself this could be the only fact of the speech but surprise, surprise, at the end of the film, there was a montage of so-called Zionist supporters with the pictures of Anwar Ibrahim, Tian Chua, Teresa Kok, Hishamuddin Rais and Ezam Md. Nor. Then a question popped up in my head. Is Ezam still a Zionist supporter since he is in UMNO now? Does that mean the government has a Zionist supporter as well as the opposition? And expectedly, the speaker was being more anti-semitic than anti-zionist. He even explained how the Pakatan Rakyat ruled states are all going down the drain and he says, "this is what you get if you vote for the opposition!" He criticized Anwar Ibrahim and his colleagues so much along with Pakatan Rakyat while being completely oblivious towards Barisan Nasional's mistakes. As if they have perfect policies.

This was supposed to be a speech touching on education and look how it ended up. It did not even smell anything of education. It was a speech that was not meant for national unity at all. How could it be when you spread hate? I could only sit and ponder quietly while all this was happening. But the speech was not the saddest part. The saddest part was that the majority of students in the hall were cheering him on. I will type out part of the lyrics that were supplied to us, entitled, "Warisan".

Anak Kecil main api
Terbakar hatinya yang sepi
Air mata darah bercampur keringat
Bumi dipijak milik orang

Nenek moyang kaya raya
Tergadai seluruh harta benda
Akibat engketa sesamalah kita
Cinta lenyap di arus zaman ini

Indahnya bumi kita ini
Warisan berkurun lamanya
Hasil mengalir ke tangan yang lain
Pribumi merintih sendiri

Melayukan gagah di nusantara.

Who were those words referring to? Foreign powers or non-malays?

Perfect welcome to the new intake of University Students. Please spread this to others. People need to know.

I know you should.

written by A Worried Student,

Wednesday, July 02, 2008

Since we're on the topic of scholarships...

I've been meaning to write about this some time back but didn't find the right opportunity. But since the issue of scholarships and politicians have come up lately, I thought that this is an opportune time. This is a story concerning a Bank Negara scholar, current UM VC Rafiah Salim and Anwar Irbahim. I'll reproduce this former BN scholar's blog post below and comment on the other side of it.

Monday, February 25, 2008
Dato' Seri Anwar Ibrahim My Hero

I actually wanted to write this ages ago. In fact this article should be written 12 years ago way back in 1996. I was 22 years old. A young ambitious chap who just graduated from Melbourne University in Australia.

I have to admit that I wasted most of my time there. Being a Bank Negara scholar, I took things for granted. Late nights out, jamming session, movies/videos (during that time VCD has not been invented :)took priority over my studies. I was totally wrong to underestimate the commitment required for an undergraduate course. Perhaps my excellent SPM results have somehow make me think I was smart enough to go thru university years. How wrong I was.

I can still recalled my first semester exam taken in autumn 1993. It was a Business Computing paper. The night before the exam, AC Milan came to town to play the Australia national team. Me and my college buddies decided that since we know so much about computers, perhaps some time off could be taken to witness the Italian job on football. To be honest, it was a grand occasion. The likes of Paulo Maldini commanding the left pitch was a sight to behold. We came back after supper and started to panic rushing thru the lecture notes and tutorial. I failed the exam miserably. It served me right. It was partially an eye opener (still tak sedar diri) for me since I was under contract to complete the degree with honours within the stipulated time (4 years in my case). I barely got thru the others (my highest mark was 60) and have to re-sit the Business Law exam. My first year was a total disaster, academically and personally.

I tried to buck-up and concentrate more on my studies in my 2nd and 3rd year although the distraction was sometime too hard to resist. Baillieu Library became my second home. In order for me to be accepted to continue the 4th year (Hons), I need to at least obtain an average of 75% throughout my 3 years as an undergraduate. The law of average was too cruel on me. My 1st year result brought down the average to 73%, just 2% short of the required grade. I went to see the Hons program co-ordinator and begged her mercy to accept me as the Hons candidate. Failure to be accepted in the Hons programme could cost me RM240,000 for breach of contract. She tried her best but I guess her best wasn't good enough (sounds familiar?). I tried to console myself by enjoying my Graduation Day. At least I've got a degree :)

December 1995. I came back for good from Australia. Ready to serve the Central Bank of Malaysia. But I was brought to reality when the then Assistant Governor, Rafiah Salim call all scholars to her office. When it came to my turn, she crunched my results and threw it to me saying, "With results like this, you are not good enough to work at the bank" I was totally embarrassed and devastated in front of my colleagues. She treated me like rubbish. Demanding me to pay RM240,000 for breach of contract. I actually offered myself to work at any post (guards included) as long I could serve my contractual obligation with the Bank. After all, I did have a degree, not a total disaster in my own opinion. Even some of my seniors didn't complete the Hons. year but were still accepted to work in the bank. But to her, I was public enemy number 1. The one who tarnished the prestigious image of the Central Bank. All my appeals went to deaf ears and they started to issue a demand letter for breach of contract. I will never forgive Rafiah Salim for what she did on me and my family.

My family was in disarray after knowing that I need to pay RM240k. How on earth can we earn that much? My father, being a hot tempered guy, always directed his anger towards Ibu. Pity my mum, I would say she's the most patient human being in the world, tolerating my father's antics without even raising her voice. We tried to seek help with this so-called helpful politician but to no avail. We even seeked the assistance from Datuk Salomon Selamat, my father's schoolmate, the then YDP SDARA, my very own alma mater.

He promised us that he'll do his best but whenever my father called him, he kept on giving the same answer and finally told us that he can't assist us after we were made to wait for more than 5 months. A true politician indeed! I have nothing personal against Datuk Salamon. Just disappointed with his know everybody attitude but in reality....? It would be completely fine if he told us that he can't help us during our very first meeting. But having to waste precious months like menunggu bulan jatuh ke riba is a bit to much for me.

In the mean time, I went to this job interview at a Bank Negara affiliate. If I'm not mistaken some kind hearted BNM's HR staff called me and ask me to go for the interview. Lucky enough I was accepted but my offer letter was withheld thanks to Rafiah Salim who convinced the Governor not to allow my contract to be transferred to BNM's affiliate.

I totally ran out of hope. My father drafted a last appeal letter addressed to Anwar Ibrahim of the Ministry of Finance. About 3 days after that, we received a call from his secretary En. Muhammad Ahmad, if I recalled correctly. He called to get a clearer picture on my case and say he'll recommend to Dato Sri Anwar to write to BNM's governor to appeal on my behalf. Having been toyed around by many politicians, I didn't put my hope that high and was prepared for another disappointment. Two days later, I received the news I've been waiting for 9 freaking months. BNM has agreed to transfer my contract and release me from any contractual obligation.

Anwar Ibrahim did it in 5 days. The others took almost 5 months before saying they can't do anything to help me. For that I owe him my sincerest gratitude. Forget about all the nasty things accused on him (I don't even care if all the accusations were true) Dato Sri Anwar Ibrahim is my savior. A true hero indeed. You'll surely get my vote of thanks.

First of all, from a cursory glance at this person's posts, I would say that he's a pretty intelligent and articulate guy who probably would have easily made the 75% needed for the honors program if he had not screwed up his first year. Even with his horrible 1st year results, he fell short only by 2% points.

Of course, I have no way of judging how difficult it is to achieve that 75% mark in the University of Melbourne which is one of the top 2 or three unis in Australia. The only basis for comparison I have is my brother in law whose average was something like 95% at the U of Sydney but since he topped his SAM program with an average of 99%, he's probably not a good basis for comparison. (No scholarship to Australia for him alas) My sense is that 75% is probably not that difficult achieve if one is reasonably intelligent and hardworking.

Secondly, I think that Rafiah was a little hard-assed in dealing with his case. Although he had a contractual obligation to get the Honors mark, I'm sure that he was not the first scholar at Bank Negara to do that and to get away with it. And like he mentioned in the post, many of his seniors, presumably also under a BN scholarship, didn't have honors degrees. It certainly seems that Rafiah was trying to make an example of him.

This story and some of the stories shared in the previous post on Saiful Bukhari made me wonder about how widespread these kinds of stories are. How many other Malaysian scholarship holders have gone abroad and basically partied their way through 3 or 4 years of university life without having to worry about their grades and such.

This guy at least made an attempt to buck up after his first year. I wonder how many others didn't care even after scoring badly in their first year because they thought they could somehow 'get away with it' because of the lax standards set back home in Malaysia.

Of course, sometimes, the sponsoring agencies can go overboard. For example, the Singaporeans here at Duke are expected to finish their degrees in 3 years rather than 4 (which means summer school most of the time they are here) and have to have a GPA of 3.8 and above which is not exactly easy to maintain at a place like Duke. But my sense is that Malaysian scholarship sponsoring agencies are still very far from setting such high standards.

I can't help but feel a bit pissed off when I read the above post. Even as I sympathized with the writer in his treatment by Rafiah, I can't help but to compare his situation to my own. I was lucky enough that my parents could afford to send me to LSE for my undergrad. Perhaps it was because of my Singapore 'training' and perhaps it was because I didn't want to waste my parent's hard earned money, I worked really hard for my first two years at LSE just so I could secure a 1st class honors. By the end of my 2nd year, I was more or less guaranteed of graduating with a 1st class honors (unless I were to fail all my subjects in my 3rd year). In a sense, I was in the opposite situation compared to the BN scholar above.

There were a few other Malaysian scholars who were studying economics in my year and only 1 of them managed to get a first class. (She would end up being my colleague later at BCG) The other scholars either graduated with a 2nd upper or a 2nd lower. My impression was that some of them didn't really work that hard or want to achieve the same kind of academic excellence I was searching for. (And it was not as if I was studying all the time. I was pretty active in ECAs, took time to travel around Europe and do all sorts of stuff) In my opinion, I though I was at least as deserving of a Malaysian scholarship as the other Malaysians under scholarship at LSE (if not more so) purely from the perspective of academic results. If my parents could not afford it, I probably couldn't have gone to LSE. And yet others whom I thought were perhaps less deserving could have easily gotten scholarships (and did!)

(I could tell you of other stories. About a friend who is one of the smartest people I know who went to UTexas because it was the cheapest option available to him and later got into the PhD program in physics at Caltech. Or about another friend who obtained 4As and 2 distinctions in two "S" or Special papers for his A levels and whose mom had to work for a few years in the Middle East to fund his studies at Cambridge)

I didn't know any politicians who could 'pull the right strings' for me back then. Perhaps I could have gotten some sort of government funding / scholarship if I did.

But even later on, when I knew many more politicians (remember I used to work for MCA and GERAKAN), I didn't rely on these contacts to get funding to come over to the US. Thankfully I received funding from Fulbright and from my university. If not, I probably wouldn't have come here. I didn't ask a political party to fund my application here. I didn't ask any MPs or Ministers to write me a recommendation letter even though I easily could have. Perhaps, I was naive in not using these contacts in a more astute manner in the same way that Saiful Bukhari and this writer did. But thankfully, this naivete did not harm my prospects.

These episodes only makes me wonder aloud - how many people in Malaysia have gotten scholarships because of who they know rather than based on academic criteria? And how many other deserving Malaysians have been left out because they didn't know the right people?

Tuesday, July 01, 2008

Can someone with a GPA below 2.0 get a scholarship?

I'm sure that our readers are aware of the latest political scandal to hit Malaysian political scene involving Anwar and his aide, Saiful Bukhari. I won't go into the political implications of this scandal. I've written about this in Malaysiakini and you can read it here and here. I just want to ask a rhetorical question here. Can a student such as Saiful Bukhari, who dropped out of Uniten after getting a GPA of less than 2.0 be entitled to a scholarship since this was what Najib alleges Saiful was asking for when he visited the DPM's office? I wish that I had known this. I would have recommended my friends to run as student leaders in the public unis and then use this as the basis to apply for a scholarship even though their grades may be shot to pieces.