Sunday, July 08, 2007

Tracking down JPA scholars

This post has been on my mind ever since I had this discussion with a friend in Malaysia last month. The issue at hand is how the government fails to capitalize on the talent and human resource of JPA scholars, who, either through incompetence, lack of enforcement or unwillingness on the part of government departments to recruit / hire JPA scholars, usually end up working overseas or in the private sector in Malaysia. And, as far as I know, there have not been any moves to arrest this trend.

JPA overseas scholarships, which are awarded to approximately 1500 students (in the last couple of years), are perhaps the most prestigious and competitive scholarship among those which are awarded by the JPA. We've discussed the issue of JPA scholarships a number of times in this blog, notably here, here, here, here, here, here, here and here. (I may have missed a few more)

I just want to reiterate and highlight a few points arising from this conversation with my friend.

1) That the government / JPA fails to track down JPA scholars who fail to return to Malaysia after they have completed their studies overseas.

- This is costly to Malaysia since these scholars often don't pay back any of the scholarship funds expended by the JPA and also because these scholars don't return to 'contribute' their expertise and human resource to the country.
- This is perhaps the most serious 'waste' of valuable taxpayers money since these scholars are effectively contributing to the economies of the foreign countries they are working in.
- Now, I don't have a problem with Malaysians who want to or are working overseas but if they are JPA scholars and have received taxpayers' funds to study overseas, I think they have an obligation to either pay back their scholarships or return to work in Malaysia, whether it is in the private or the public sector.

2) That the government / JPA fails to find jobs for JPA scholars who have returned home to Malaysia.

- I've heard of and from many JPA scholars who 'report' to the JPA when they have finished their degrees and immediately starts working in the private sector because the JPA is known for taking their time to 'assign' jobs for these scholars. More often than not, the JPA comes back to the scholars and tell them that they have 'failed' to find suitable jobs for them in the government. If I'm not mistaken, there is a clause in the JPA agreement which says that the JPA scholar is released from his or her bond if a job in the government cannot be found for him or her within a year of this scholar 'reporting' to the JPA
- I suspect that this occurs for a few reasons.
Firstly, it could be due to the sheer incompetence of the JPA in finding jobs for these scholars. But I think that this is unlikely given that the JPA doesn't seem to have a problem in other administrative matters such as paying the fees for these scholars.
- Secondly, and perhaps more likely, I have a sneaking suspicion that the heads of many government departments don't want to 'hire' JPA scholars because of the potential of this scholar 'outshining' many others in these departments including the government heads.

3) That JPA scholars are release from their bonds if they find work in a GLC such as Petronas, Tenaga, Telekom etc...

- I'm not sure if this is the current JPA policy. While not being as bad as working overseas and not paying back one's bond, this does nothing to improve the culture and the efficiency of our public sector. Indeed, I know of not a few JPA scholars who have been 'sucked up' by Petronas because of the better pay and working conditions there and because Petronas is a GLC, they don't have to 'pay back' or serve their JPA bond.

4) That a large percentage of JPA scholars end up working in the private sector

- I was told by a friend that quite a few of his colleagues at Accenture were JPA scholars who didn't have to pay back their bond or work for the government because the JPA never 'got back to them'.
- While these JPA scholars are still contributing to the Malaysian economy both as taxpayers and as productive workers, it still does not negate the point that taxpayers' funds were used on their education.
- I was told that perhaps up to 90% of JPA scholars who return home to Malaysia end up working in the private sector.

Now I know that what I've said and what I'm going to say will offend many current and future JPA scholars but I think it needs to be said. It costs upwards of 500,000RM to educate a JPA scholar in England or in the US (less in continental Europe, Japan and Australia but still at least 300,000RM). As much as 100RM million a year is spend on JPA scholars. Hence, it is a TREMENDOUS waste of taxpayers' funds if JPA scholars are not made accountable for these scholarships.

To arrest this trend of disappearing JPA scholars, I recommend the following:

1) Implement a strict 'tracking' system for JPA scholars such that if they do not return to Malaysia after the completion of their studies, they would have to pay back their JPA scholarships in full and with interest. Scholars should be made to assign 'guarantors' so that if they do not return to Malaysia, their guarantors can be made to pay back the amount owed to the JPA.

- Of course, some flexibility can be introduced here e.g. installment schemes, postponement of coming back to Malaysia because of postgrad studies, writing off a certain portion of the loan if the student ends up working in a GLC etc...
- But the point remains that these students should not be left off 'scott-free'
- If the government is clamping down on PTPLN loan defaulters, why not clamp down on JPA scholars who don't return or don't end up working for the government?

2) Design a special position / training program in the civil service that allows the JPA scholars to be rotated among different departments before being assigned / given the choice of a department.

- Many MNCs such as Citibank and P&G have management trainee programs which rotates their better recruits among the different departments in these companies before they decide or are assigned a department. Why can't the Malaysian government do something similar?
- If it takes a larger salary to recruit and retrain these JPA scholars, then why not create a layer of 'management trainees' which can be paid at higher levels, at least initially, and then promoted faster so that their opportunities and pay can expand commensurately?

Note: Not all GLCs are as 'liberal' as the JPA. Some (like PNB) does track down its scholars and are very strict in enforcing repayment terms if their scholars don't fulfill the terms of their bonds.


Anonymous said...

There is a fundamental lack of clarity about what the scholarship's aims are. If it truly is to recruit for the civil service -- which I hope it isn't, since the scholarships neither get, on average, the best possible candidates, nor actually succeed at channeling them into government service -- then the scholarships have failed abominably.

What the scholarship is, then, is a political tool. What better way of delivering large, one-off handouts to marginal constituents -- the middle class, in particular? That the scholarships are highly public and bear some semblance to a reward for merit is not to be ignored, to the extent that they deflect criticism for the handouts. That scholars are rarely obliged to return reflects the facts that first, the scholarship becomes, on average, far less valuable as a handout if it implies an obligation to join to the civil service, and second, that the public can't complain about what it doesn't know.

This is not to say most of the scholarships aren't a dreadful waste of money. They are. But I think the selection and retention policies are one of a piece. I doubt that there's a sufficiently large supply of talent available, or enough demand for high-powered civil servants, that JPA can sensibly send three hundred people to the US each year. If the scholarship is to remain political, which in all likelihood it will, then the numbers are fine as they stand. But otherwise, having three hundred relatively bright graduates enter the civil service, which neither uses nor rewards them in a fashion commensurate with their ability, is going to be, if not a waste of money, then surely a waste of talent.


Anonymous said...

So what is new? Our country are very well known for not utilizing her human potential. And in many cases, actually "pushing" them away and give it to other countries on a plate. Not recognizing the independent Chinese certificate is one.

Anonymous said...

negara kita kaya dan tidak memerlukan
hutang di bayar......

Anonymous said...

1.Have there been any cases of scholars being bought out of their bonds by the private sector or tertiary institutions? or they just ignore the fact that there is such thing as a bond?

Being bought out of a bond requires a person to sufficiently prove him/herself to be capable such that the investment from an outside firm is worthwhile (normally equating to a few times the original worth of the scholarship).

2. This would lead to the question on how our scholars are faring in their respective universities (since academic success is one of the means to gauge the potential of a person).

Are there any specific academic requirements that they must achieve to maintain their scholarship at all?

It also baffles me as to why, on average, are the scholars from Malaysia consistently not performing close to the standards of their Singapore peers under scholarships. (An open secret)

A search on the internet produced this:

An example of listing out the CGPA of scholars would give tremendous visibility to taxpayers on how well their money are being spent.

3. Not fulfilling the bond requirements requires both party to work hand in hand. Blaming the Government seems to be the easy way out. (Fault must be given where it is due)

4. Which leads me to refering you to your "Liberal Arts Colleges" post on June 20th, it is possible to find bond breaker(s) of JPA in it. Heh. Nice?

5. This also leads me into questioning the point of celebrating Malaysians getting into top universities in Newspapers. Wonderful news? Yes. Worth mentioning? Wait till one achieved true success, please. Gaining admission is one, surviving is another.

Individuals like this only managed to feature in newspapers down south.

Biasa saja kan?

Brought to you by Frequent Flyer

__mars said...


I quote: Design a special position / training program in the civil service that allows the JPA scholars to be rotated among different departments before being assigned / given the choice of a department.

The JPA does have that actually. The program is called "Pegawai Tadbir Dan Diplomatik" if I am not mistaken.

Anonymous said...

As a current scholar, I am completely unoffended by your suggestions - it is imperative that students who were educated using the public purse return home and serve the people who paid for their education, i.e. the taxpayers. No ifs or buts.

On another note regarding the release of JPA scholars from their bonds, the current trend seems to be for students in 'non-critical' fields such as law and economics to be exempt from serving out their scholarship bond. We can speculate till the cows come home as to why this is so but ostensibly the government service doesn't have the capacity to absorb these students into the civil service. For critical fields such as medicine, engineering and dentistry, however (which make up the overwhelming bulk of JPA scholarships offered), there have been no such cases.

Anonymous said...

Current scholar, this begs a question I've been wanting to ask for a long time: why offer scholarships in non-critical areas if you know you are not going to use the graduates?

The first poster, AO, has proposed an answer, but I am not sure if the reasons have been thought out as well as he has outlined. Similarly, the very low bonds posted until a few years ago could be interpreted either as cunning political machination or simple obliviousness. It's anyone's guess what the real reason is.

There were some murmurings (on the scholars' end) about released scholars joining JPA to reform the scholarship system...but I don't know what has come of it. AO, to counter your point I would say that just because there aren't explicit positions at the moment for high-powered, quite bright civil servants (and I'm not sure if this statement is even true) doesn't mean that they are not needed. On the other hand this doesn't mean that the absolute numbers may not still be too high or that the courses specified may be completely inappropriate.

To the other anon, JPA doesn't send people to liberal arts colleges that I know of.

Anonymous said...

Another response to anon about CGPAs. I see this as an unnecessary burden on the Singaporean scholars. They are limited in the classes they can 'risk' taking because of this - so no exploratory classes in film, French literature or world politics (or even more difficult classes in their own area), which I think we would like our scholars to be able to take to broaden their horizons while abroad. Of course for scholars in the UK and other less flexible systems this may not be a consideration.

I don't know if JPA has a minimum CGPA requirement? I just haven't heard Malaysian scholars fretting about taking 'easy' classes as much as the Singaporeans - but then again bear in mind my sample is *very* small.

Anonymous said...

Dear Charis Quay,

1.You are pretty smart to notice that a few of those are LACs universities.

Check out the 2nd comment posted in the LAC post.It explains which unis are true LACs and which universities have [b]inclination [/b]towards Liberal Arts education.

This is the major difference and it probably narrows you down to a few remaining individuals in that list.
Try hard finding honorable bond breaker(s).

[i]Malaysia Boleh![/i]

2. CGPAs have always been a major controversy in Singapore due to the factor listed down by you. I acknowledge the fact that there could be a channeling effect in which scholars take up easy courses to maintain good CGPA.

Firstly, What you have mentioned is also probably the major problem with scholarships nowadays. Scholarships are supposedly given to people with good academic ability to cope with a new learning environment and so on....(you add the list)

These scholars shouldn't have any problem attaining good grades if they are truly made of scholarly material. Only problem is, we are giving out too many scholarships now. Some are brilliant people, no problem for them. What about those who just crossed the mark or went lucky during scholarship selections? Complains.

Secondly, the context in which you are setting is totally different. Singaporean scholars are expected to continue with either a Masters degree or a Phd degree after attaining their basic degree. This is to facilitate their future growth and fulfill their potential. The fact that a high CGPA is required for grad school makes it imperative that the scholarship board set a high target such that scholars can qualify (note: qualify, not gain admission) to compete in the grad school applications.

(Check out the Good Grad Schools stated CGPA requirements and also their true CGPA requirements)

Malaysians scholars obtain their basic degree and...that's all. Some continue, kudos to them. But most don't. That's another question I shall leave for another day.

Thirdly, the CGPA channeling issue arises from the fact that the minimum requirement for Singaporean Scholars is a 1st class. Those who complain, I would suspect, are those getting 2nd upper class or so. Kinda like a miracle to find them failing-kiasu people.

What about Malaysian Scholars?

1st Class IS an option.

So IS 2nd Upper.

So IS Repeating the year, failing exams, wasting tax payers money.


Brought to you by Frequent Flyer


(I wonder what's the response from Descartes Higher Education Counselling Centre (DECC)in inviting bond breaker(s) to talk about Top American Liberal Arts Colleges. The more Bond breaking, The merrier?)

Too bad, nobody is innocent.

Anonymous said...


Acting like our politicians now?


Say Lee said...

There's another lesser known group of JPA scholars: serving officers. Another difference is that these are for advanced/post-graduate degrees and the academic standard required is hence dictated by the universities, especially those at the doctoral level. So there are so-called casualties at the latter level who return without gaining the distinction of earning a Ph.D. degree.

But return they did, and readily serve out the bond as well. Bond breakers are a rarity for these mature students as the affiliated departments act as JPA's watchdogs. Any would-be defaulters is also likely deterred by the full weight of the General Orders.

As for publishing CGPAs of JPA scholars, personally I have no problem with that, but only as far as it is able to motivate the scholars to greater heights in their academic pursuits. I would readily admit that academic achievement is only one of the many yardsticks used in career advancement in the civil service.

Anonymous said...


(I wonder what's the response from Descartes Higher Education Counselling Centre (DECC)in inviting bond breaker(s) to talk about Top American Liberal Arts Colleges. The more Bond breaking, The merrier?)

Too bad, nobody is innocent."

What exactly are you talking about? Actually, JPA doesn't even allow its students to apply to Liberal Arts Colleges. So I'm not sure what are you talking about. Don't just make unsubstantiated claims.

Unknown said...

Shame on you JPA...
How come Singapore scholarship holders are tracked down and taken care off..
Whereas you goons in JPA cannot do this simple task...
Plain "bull-!@#%"

Anonymous said...

I did apply for the JPA scholarship and went through the interview process,but turn out failed.I mean i don't secure a place,I don't really know how they judge.But this event certainly reveal me of the unfair treat i ot fr this country.never mind i always assure myself,as I "think" that it will be fair enough if the scholars need to be bonded or return the money back.however,i was quite ...disappointed by the fact that many(jpa scholars) intend and are "skipped" from the repayment.For the unlucky one like me,who fail to get a place,its cerainly the jpa scholars do stand a better chance and opportunity in working place,as they hold the oversea degree.My parents still mentioned about this though it happened a few years back,I knew my parents are feeling injustice for me.I know,yes I understand that.
My heart still ache when i think of this. Do pray for the brighter future of the children of this land!lo and behold!