Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Stimulus package for postgrad students

One area affected by the mini-budget or stimulus package that was announced yesterday is postgraduate education in Malaysia. All the details are not out yet but here are some of my preliminary thoughts based on the following Star report.

This is what the DPM who is also the Finance Minister and will soon by our PM said:

Deputy Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak said it would finance tuition fees and research grants up to RM20,000 for every student pursuing a PhD locally and RM10,000 for students pursuing a Master’s programme.

“A total of 500 places at PhD level and 10,000 at Masters level in public universities as well as at Universiti Tenaga Nasional, Multimedia University and Universiti Teknologi Petronas will be offered,” he said.

The Higher Education Minister had this to add:

Higher Education Minister Datuk Seri Mohamed Khaled Nordin was happy that the stimulus package took into the consideration the needs and problems faced by fresh graduates during the current economic slowdown.

“Not only are there several schemes for unemployed graduates, the Government is also helping them further their studies by providing financial aid,” he said at the Parliament lobby.

Right off the bat, I want to state that I am not against increasing the number of postgraduate students in Malaysia. In fact, this is probably a necessary step if we want to increase the R&D capacity in our country. But there are a few caveats here, caveats which I have discussed before in previous posts. These include - having a sufficient number of professors who can teach and guide these postgrad students and having a selection process that is rigorous enough such that only well-qualified students are admitted into these postgrad programs.

The remarks of the Higher Education minister do not inspire confidence in me. It seems to me that he sees the increase in the number of postgrad places in our public universities as a way to decrease graduate unemployment. In fact, his remarks seem to imply that these scholarships should be given to unemployed graduates!

In any economic downturn, especially in the US context, a larger number fresh graduates will opt to go to graduate school because the opportunity costs associated with grad school is lower - fewer high paying jobs under current market conditions and so on. But many of these students, especially those who can get into the top graduate programs, would have found a job if they didn't choose to go to grad school albeit one which may not meet their high expectations. These are not students who go to grad school because the alternative would be unemployment.

Perhaps the Higher Education Minister was quoted out of context but it really does seem to me that he doesn't 'get' postgrad degrees. He may really think that it's a good solution to solve unemployment in the country. If these students cannot get a job in the private sector or in government, why not ship them off to do postgrad degrees which we i.e. the taxpayer will foot the bill for?

At least the Education Minister seems to 'get' the picture a little bit better:

Meanwhile, Education Minister Datuk Seri Hishammuddin Tun Hussein said the 1,000 additional posts for graduate teachers, who would be hired on contract, would enable the ministry to address the shortage of teachers in certain sectors.

These teachers will be put to productive use, hopefully, in areas where there are teacher shortages, both geographically as well as by subject. The academic 'bar', so to speak, may not be as high as that needed for a PhD student.

The costs associated with selecting a large group of students who are unsuitable for PhD programs are far greater to the taxpayer as well as in terms of human resource management. There may be high drop out rates, dropping of standards to allow sub-par students to obtain their PhDs, frustrated PhD students who are not well guided by their professors, etc...


Nor Izzatina Abdul Aziz said...

Another drawback that can be associated with the move is the fatigue that the current teaching staff might suffer due to increasing number of students to supervise.

High number of undergrad is not a problem as most learning will be conducted in class. However with more graduate students around, the faculty will be swamped with more duties.

I'm not an academician but I know that effective graduate learning process involves constant interaction with professor.

The results : sub-par PhDs and Masters degrees.

Shawn Tan said...

I only know the 2003 prices at UTP but lets assume that these have not changed and that the others are charging similar sums. The on-campus annual fees alone are are RM17k+ and RM25k+ for the MSc and PhD programmes.

So, the RM10k and RM20k funding provided won't even begin to cover the fees for a single year. So, if we consider it as a form of subsidy, then the students still need to fork out a lot. So, these students would not only be unemployed, they would be in debt! Hopefully, after a few years, the market would recover enough for them to secure high paying jobs to pay back this debt.

Anonymous said...

do the grant entitle for foreign students studying PHD and master degree in local universities?
if yes, it mean malaysian tax payers are funding the foreigner students.

Ying Khai 穎凱 said...

I think only Malaysians are eligible to apply. I see it as temporary measure taken by the government to delay the unemployment problem of current batches of graduates.

Anyway by research only M.Sc. and PhD tuition fees are about +-2K per annum for most local universities. So that means student will have the remaining sum (8K, 18K) as their living allowance.

Anonymous said...

Agree with Kian Ming's observations. Like offshore candidates with CSU Waga Waga many were mismatched with supervisors that didn't have a clue what their PhD students were doing and had wasted both their time and money on the program. As you rightly mentioned the fallout rate is high and a total waste of resources on the students' part.

Anonymous said...

Yes, times are hard and it's time to keep our graduates in our local universities to learn some skills.

Yes, learn from the former deputy vice-chancellor of a state-owned university who allegedly forged his superior’s signature to show proof that he had all the documents in order to extend his contract, and enjoyed for more than a year all the perks and benefits that come with the illegal extension. Very smart and cunning skill - he knew how to survive in a recession by creating a job for himself! Malaysia boleh!

We await with bated breath for the announcement on Monday, 16.3.09, about the identity of the former deputy VC, our sifu in crime.

George Tan said...

The funding should not have been part of the stimulus package anyway. It should have been set aside in the budget the first place if the government is serious about producing more PhD and Masters graduates. In many countries, doing a PhD or a masters is very much like a job. Post-graduate students are paid a substantial amount while pursuing these research degrees. I hope the funding for PhD and masters studies would be there whether or not the country is in recession, or rather whether or not there is any stimulus packages.

Anonymous said...

The government and local public universities have been very kind and generous in supporting our citizens in their pursuit of higher degrees. So much so that many postgraduate candidates love to remain as postgraduate candidates and take their own sweet time to complete their degrees, while being continuously and generously supported by the government and while leading an extraordinarily fecund family lifestyle and breeding like rabbits. Taxpayers’ money has been grossly abused.

Now, at least, UM had issued letters (warning or sack?) to 50 or more of their academic staff members who have not completed their postgraduate studies after 5 or more years.

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Anonymous said...

would any one have any idea how to apply for the scholarships for PhD recentrly announced ? There seem to be no further annoucements about the application procedures

Anonymous said...

Please looks for Ministry of Higher Education's web site, for further information on government funding for postgraduate studies.