Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Incentives to stay at home

These couple of reports, here and here, in the Star on the same subject caught up interest. The basic gist of the new proposal by Tok Pa is this - he wants to 'entice' a third of all top SPM scorers (by which he means straight A1s scorers) to study locally, perhaps in a 3 + 1 program where three years are spent in a local university and 1 year is spent abroad.

I think that the flaws of this proposal can be seen almost immediately. First of all, what possible kinds of 'enticements' can one offer a top SPM scorer to study in a local institution when this scholar can potentially study in the best universities outside Malaysia? Cambridge vs UM or Harvard vs UM, hmmm, which school do you think these scholars will choose? Will there be monetary incentives offered to these scholars so that they won't go abroad? Actually, this makes financial sense on the part of the MOHE. Why not offer to pay these scholars 2000RM a month for 4 years (for a total of 96,000RM) versus having to spend almost half a million RM to send a scholar to the US or the UK, many of whom don't return to Malaysia to serve out their 'bond'. If this is the case, why not make ALL JPA scholars stay back in Malaysia? Why only 'entice' a third of them to stay back? In any case, imagine if you were in the position of a student who has gotten into Cambridge or Harvard. Would this student want to take the short term financial incentive and forgo his or her chance to study in one of these prestigious institutions? If I were to advise them, I'd tell them that you can always earn back the 100,000RM (or whatever financial incentives the MOHE is offering) later in life. It's a chance of a lifetime to go abroad to study, especially if you manage to get into a good foreign university.

Secondly, what sort of university do you think these top scorers can go to in a 3 + 1 program where their final year is spent abroad? It's not likely that Cambridge or Oxford or Harvard or most of the top universities in the UK or the US will likely offer up places for Malaysians to go to for only a year. It is much more likely that these 3 + 1 destinations will be the universities which currently have twinning programs with Malaysian colleges. These might be decent schools but probably not the top schools in the US or the UK.

Yes, I know that the US have this junior year abroad program which is basically a 3 + 1 program (with the 1 in the third year) where many juniors in US universities study in universities abroad for a year. But can the MOHE negotiate this kind of deal with the top UK or US universities? (or tops unis in other countries for that matter) As far as I know, none of the top US universities offer this kind of option for students in other universities. And as far as I know, Cambridge and Oxford doesn't offer this kind of option to US university students (unless you're a Rhodes scholar which is applicable only for Oxford).

Thirdly, what sort of criteria will be used to select the one third of scholars who are 'enticed' or perhaps 'forced' to stay back to study in a local institution? I'm afraid that with this kind of 'quota', those who get to go abroad might be those who are more 'connected', politically or socially.

Imagine that you're a top SPM scorer who's been awarded a JPA scholarship and then later told that you're getting into UM or UKM or USM as your 'reward'. How would you feel about this? Especially if you know that 2/3rds of your fellow JPA scholars are going abroad to study, many of them at prestigious foreign universities?

Fourthly, if JPA scholars are sent abroad with the intention of getting more exposure, how much of help will 1 year in a foreign institution be? I think the benefits are likely to be minimal.

If Tok Pa wants to increase the standard of students going into the local universities, he should start with the 'second tier' students, those who are not the top SPM scorers but who are offer government scholarships of different types to go abroad to study. Why not 'entice' these students to stay back in a local uni? Aren't the top scorers more 'deserving' of going abroad (as well as standing a better chance of getting into a really good universities) than these 'second tier' (or perhaps even third tier) SPM scorers? These second tier scorers might presumably be better than the average student currently going into the local unis and hence, still help to increase the overall quality of students going into the local unis.

NUS in Singapore was managed to build up a reputation for being one of the best universities in Asia despite having many of the top scorers in Singapore heading to unis overseas. Of course, other factors are also at play in NUS such as better management, better pay for professors, more institutional incentives for research, better hiring practices etc... but it shows that not having your best students is not necessarily an obstacle towards creating a quality university.

As an aside, I think Tony's earlier proposals of offering scholarships to students at a later date and only after they've obtained entry into one of the top foreign universities makes sense. It would reduce the number of JPA scholars that we fund and would guarantee that we're funding scholars who only get into the best universities. Those who don't manage to get into these universities can be conveniently absorbed by our local unis, thereby 'solving' one of Tok Pa's major problems - attracting good students into our local unis. (Of course, some of these potential JPA scholars might still try to fund themselves to go overseas but that can't really be prevented)

On a longer term note, unless we have a much better enforcement and human resource management policy, I'm in favor of slowly but surely cutting down the number of JPA scholarships available at the undergrad level since a large proportion of JPA scholars don't return to serve out their bonds by working for any part of the Malaysian government. (If those of you who thought that the RM1.25 million spent on Dr. Azly was 'extravagant' and 'wasteful', think of the BILLIONS that are and have been spent on JPA scholars who don't serve a single day of their supposed 'bond').

In the meantime, I feel sorry for the first batch of JPA scholars who are denied the opportunity to go abroad to study while they watch 2/3rds of their cohort leave for prestigious universities abroad.


Anonymous said...

I think our government should be credited for initiating from one 'Micket mouse' project to another!

Everything is ' bolih' in Bolihland!

Happy 50th Merdeka!

Anonymous said...

Let me try to be a little less emotional.

1) The mentality of top scorer "deserves" to go overseas, is wrong. He/she should go where he/she can learn best in and excel thereafter. Overseas, or not, it should not matter. There should be no entitlement mentality here. Least we end up like, you-know-who.

2) NUS is ranked 19 worldwide. # 3 in entire Asia. You are correct in noting the brain drain, but you must study how Singapore deals with it, also through importing (first tier/high quality) foreigners to compete and improve their second/third tier talents.

3) I notice, thus far, Universities who accept O levels, or SPM equavalent instead of A levels or STPM levels, are mostly poorly rated or not so good Universities. We should study why students are not studying STPM, instead of cheapening our Universities to compete at SPM level of intake.

4) We must really improve on the quality of our Universities. I have read on this blog the suggestion of headhunting Singaporean (NUS/NTU) administration heads to structure and head UM, UKM. Why not? They take top Malaysian talents too. It's time we bury that useless pride (arrogance?) and be humble, as taught in all religions and among all races.

5) Every one of us must stop promoting good results = entitled to scholarship. This is wrong. The only entitled reward you should get for good results, is from your parents. Scholarships are defined in many ways. Either for financial situations, for academic excellence, etc and are always constraint by finances.

Let us think a little deeper into this. And make our country the place we have been promised.

Anonymous said...

kian ming said:

"If those of you who thought that the RM1.25 million spent on Dr. Azly was 'extravagant' and 'wasteful', think of the BILLIONS that are and have been spent on JPA scholars who don't serve a single day of their supposed 'bond'"

i do not think the reason your thread was bombarded with less than supportive responses was because of that the readers had this sorta vendetta against azly and had singled him out among all the other scholarship holders who defaulted their bonds. it was because of all the ways he used in the media and the internet to communicate what he did was right, justifiable, and absolutely guiltless. it seems also that bloggers such as the like of you also gave them your blessings and condoned this fornm of action and behaviour. this attitude is simply unacceptable and defies human decency.

i tell you if every scholarship holder, jpa or not, after taking the scholarship offer, and obtaining his/her degree and decided not to come back to serve in a capacity which was agreed earlier, while blogging and telling the public how bad their sponsors were and justify their non return due to "personal problems", and expect the public and academia to support them, they wouldnt be going off scot free as they have been doing for all these years.

after nearly a hundred negative responses from two of your threads bout supporting dr azly, it seems that you still havent learnt of the message msian commoners want to relay to the couple, and perhaps, to you too.

Anonymous said...

I find your reasoning deeply flawed; in your presumed haste (and a somewhat tempered rationale), you have chosen to overlook and overblow many significant issues, several which are regrettably pertinent. In a nutshell, let me address several of those questions.

A large proportion of your premise is based on the assumption that the haves and have-not exist. That's very true; but you then proceed to separate the world into its extremes of black-and-white, between the best and the worst. What about the shades of gray? Lets assume that this unquantifiable dimension represents the second- or third- tier universities, which logically, is better than our top universities. Yet would you want them there, with the possibility that they might 'defect' and subsequently drain our country of our human resource? Certainly, it would be better to go abroad and learn (and bet the odds on them returning), but a more plausible method would be to retain our best students to add significant and critical ideas to our universities. Wouldn't our Times ranking then be a bit higher too (pun intended.)

Clearly, the aforementioned universities are incredibly selective, yet you inexplicably believe that it is somewhat easy that our top students could gain admission to those universities. A larger sample of students applying to these top universities, of course, yields a larger possibility for admission, yet it is clear that instead of 'losing' all of our brightest minds, the government wants to 'entice' some students to stay back. For you, 'enticing' is probably tantamount to 'forcing'. But it is not. Nobody is talking about 'forcing' here - the government is merely proposing to monetarily reward students who could enrich our universities.

Moreover, your reasoning assumes that those who stay back instead of attending the "easily admissible" Oxford and Harvard won't learn much from, or positively contribute to, their education here (reinforcing the prior point). Let's be clear - nobody doubts the value of the top-tier universities. We all acknowledge their capacity to instruct, to mould future leaders of society, to challenge the young to smartly appraise theoretical ideas as well as balance practical considerations. Yet, should your utopia hold true, our nation is impoverished. Allowing all our top students to leave merely creates a climate of mediocrity in our universities. When all of our best students leave/ avoid local universities, what chance is there for intelligent discourse in our universities? Probably not too much. Wouldn't it be filled then with subpar students who, in a perverse cycle, create an even more lamentable learning environment? Here, you are clearly missing the socio-economic benefits that those who stay back could contribute.

Moreover, if, as you ironically mentioned, many do not come back to serve their 'bonds', what is the point of sending them elsewhere? Don't they then learn a new culture, fall in love with their surroundings, and henceforth never come back? To hell with them! Let them stay in Malaysia and contribute to the nation's well-being!

Bafflingly, you have demonstrated a poor understanding of the system's purpose. Somewhat understably, but not blamelessly, you have viewed this issue from an outsiders perspective. The government is extremely supportive if a Malaysian student is admitted to an Ivy League/ top-notch universities, so much that in many instances there would be efforts to send students there if possible (I am hesistant to explain more, for I'm sure you could check their policy out easily)

I am beginning to believe that previous criticisms have severely impaired your judgment. Let's, for the sake of intelligent conversation, choose to use our minds instead of our hearts.

Anonymous said...

Kian Ming, this thing about top students and top universities, has a huge feedback loop.

You see, top students want to go where the course they graduate from earns them a lot fo money or reputation.

Universities gain reputation faster by having top talents.

Economies get more investments if the country has more talents they need.

So it's like this:
Career -> Attract top student -> contribute to Uni reputation -> trains better talents -> more investments leading to better careers

The job now is to identify where is the link which is easiest for Malaysia to break. Becuase all the factors in the above link, are bad links for us.

Giving scholarships, will do nothing to alleviate our University situation, if they graduate with lousy, or no careers.

Anonymous said...

So now the government bribes the nation to keep the latter quiet. Typical Malaysian way isn't it? Quick fix with a fish and we forget for another day. How can we as a nation be so 'cheap' and can be bought so easily?

Why not get to the root of the problem? Why do the top scholars tend to go overseas? Oh, but then we get into the obvious issues of quotas and injustice which we should also forget as long as we get the leftovers of the fish.

Why 1/3? Why not 1/2 or 1/10? What is the significance of this number?

I think Kian Ming got a lot of undeserved stick for highlighting Azly's case. It is the tree for the forest.

Anonymous said...

The main stumbling block to retaining our best and brightest are the entrenched racialist policies put in place by Tun Razak and his successors. More so, apathy and mere lip service from the highest level of government will not convince many talented Malaysians to unpack their bags to countries that will enable them to realise their true potential. The NEP is a Catch-22 for Malaysia and the lack of political will to do away with the racialist NEP will not abate Malaysia's brain drain.

Nor Izzatina Abdul Aziz said...

I think your guys should say something on the government plan for apex universities revealed last Monday. They're calling it the Ivy's for Malaysia.

Anonymous said...

in regard to the 4th comment,

the idea of retaining top students in our uni is good.with your feeble one-sided reasoning,theoritically it will work.
speaking as a student studying in one of the top unis in the uk,the question is whether top students want to study in local unis?with the current state of our local unis,how will we know we're getting a quality degree?we want the very best education so that it will give us an edge in the future,can uni's like UKM,USM or even the mighty UM promise that?if i graduate from UM with an engineering degree,how likely will i fare in the job market compared to an Imperial grad?
my parents once told me that everything a parent wants is the next generation do better than the previous.i believe that pulling back 50 msian scholars from Imperial to say USM will definitely increase the standard but i also believe that this 50 will not have a life as good as if they graduated from Imperial.
So i think my main argument is,where is the government gonna find a bunch of bright young msians ready to be the kambing korban in this quest to raise our standards?
i've met alot of deserving scholars in uk and alot of non-deserving one as well(1A for alevels,unable to converse in english properly).i personally believe that the government should come down hard on scholars who dont serve their bonds.is it obvious that opportunity abroad is so much better than msia,but if not for the scholarship,there wouldnt be an opportunity in the first place.scholars need know that.

Anonymous said...

I will further the significant point made by [d, 10:35 AM] above.

Scholarships are treated as a way to escape Malaysia, as a form of economic asylum. The evidence of this statement can be established, given numbers that demonstrate the ratio of scholarship holders returning, to those breaking bond. I understand that no such official figures have ever been released by the government.

A scholarship holder is not only duty-bound to their state, but to themselves (following economic individualism) and their parents' expectations (following familial traditionalism). 'd' makes the point that to fulfill state duty would be akin to sacrificing expectations of the individual and parents. As 'd' rightly notes, a talented student will not be granted the same opportunities in Malaysia as they would elsewhere.

To demand economic servitude by making 'patriotic' claims is a disingenuous, emotional claim of the Malaysian government. Patriotism, and sacrifice demanded in its name, can only be claimed if there is genuine opportunity for overall improvement - of the state, the individual and the family.

Since the state has consistently withheld opportunity (and by doing so, limited and ceased economic improvement of many lives), bond-breaking becomes a way to simultaneously claim opportunity and exact contempt toward the state.

Scholars know this intellectually. But lack of opportunity makes for desperate people. The paradoxical morality - of respecting the conditional opportunity of a corrupt government – has a pragmatic response. Education has become a matter of economic survival - and scholarships a ticket to leave Malaysia. There is more to lose by remaining.

Anonymous said...

It is important to the scholars to know that receiving scholarships is akin to borrowing tax payers' money. Patriotism or gratitute aside, when you borrow somebody's money, you have to return the money back, one way or the other. Remaining abroad and breaking the bond is unethical and should not be tolerated.

i am a scholar studying in New Zealand, though i could find many reasons to stay behind, i know i owe the government my service and like it or not, i am not in the position to choose, conscience will lead me to go back and render my service to Malaysia.