Thursday, May 14, 2009

Never ending JPA scholarship 'controversies'

The latest JPA scholarship results have been announced and not surprisingly, it has been met with howls of protests among the usual quarters, starting with the MCA.

Here are a few links to some newspaper reports that document these protests as well as the JPA's response to these protests. You can access them here, here and here.

Protests and appeals should not be surprising given the limited number of scholarships and the higher number of 'deserving' candidates. But the JPA is not helpless in trying to quell some of these protests.

What the JPA needs to do is the following:

(i) Clarify the objectives of the JPA scholarship

- Is it to give an opportunity for academically excellent Malaysian students to study abroad?
- Is it to create a pool of talented workers who would come back to serve the country in the civil service?
- Is it to reward students from academically disadvantaged backgrounds e.g. from rural areas, from lower class families, from Sabah and Sarawak etc... an opportunity to study abroad?
- Does awarding the local versus the foreign JPA scholarship fulfill different objectives e.g. are those who are academically more gifted awarded the foreign JPA scholarship?
- How important is the racial 'quota' in determining who ultimately gets this scholarship?

Right now, my impression is that the JPA is trying to be all things to all people and trying to fulfill too many fast changing objectives with the awarding of these scholarships.

(ii) Make the criterion for obtaining these scholarships transparent to the public

- Hopefully what this will do is to quell some of the protests. At least if the public knows what these criterion are e.g. to reward students from rural areas, they will understand even if they might not agree with these criteria.

I always feel that more information and transparency is better.

(iii) Have some sort of tracking mechanism to see if these objectives have been met

- For example, JPA could easily track the statistics of different scholarship recipients e.g. % of scholars obtaining places to study in the top universities in the UK or US, graduation rates of scholars with different academic abilities based on their SPM results, % of scholars who return to Malaysia after graduation, % of scholars who return to Malaysia and work for the civil service, etc...
- Using these statistics, the JPA as well as their political masters can decide on whether their objectives have been fulfilled and if not, how the criteria for selection needs to be changed to fulfill these objectives

Right now, most JPA scholars who go abroad either don't come back to Malaysia or if they do, end up working in the private sector which is what they would have done anyways, without the JPA scholarship. Hence, it is a waste of taxpayers money.

My sense is that for this year's JPA scholarship, many more students who did not achieve academically stellar SPM results and who were from rural areas were awarded a disproportionate share of the scholarships while many students who were more academically superior but who are from the urban areas were rejected.

We've blogged about the JPA scholarships many, many times in this blog. I will summarize some of the recommendations which have been put forth here:

(i) Award these scholarships only after these students have applied to and obtained places in foreign universities
(ii) Give priority to those students who have obtained places in some of the top schools in foreign universities based on a pre-approved list of universities
(iii) Bond these students so that they have to return to Malaysia to serve in the civil service

If I were advising the Malaysian government on this matter, I would recommend the following steps:

(i) Refer to the JPA foreign scholarships as the JPA scholarships. Call the local scholarships something else since most of the attention is paid to the places for foreign universities.
(ii) Restrict the number of JPA foreign scholarships so that you can be more selective about who you pick to received these scholarships.
(iii) Create an administrative layer within the civil service that is specifically in charge of 'taking in' these JPA scholars as civil servants so that their skills and expertise can be utilized for the public good
(iv) Allow other GLCs to recruit these JPA scholars but with the caveat that these GLCs have to pay back a certain value of the scholarships (but with a discount) so that the taxpayers' money is accounted for

I would make it absolutely clear that the JPA foreign scholarships will be awarded to the best and the brightest who are willing to come back to serve their country. This way, the JPA scholarships will have a focus instead of trying to be all things to all people.

And hopefully, end some of these always occurring 'controversies' about who is or is not deserving of a JPA foreign scholarship.


Coltz said...

Excellent summary. I would add a suggestion to factor income level instead of urban/rural difference, but seeing how difficult it could be to track real income in Malaysia, that might turn out to be hardly feasible.

KC said...

Perpetuating problems of the awarding of the JPA scholarship have shown to us the inability and discrimination of the government. Adding to the insult is the inability and lack of commitment of the MCA and MIC to solve such problems. Although many people have contributed solutions, the problems are yet to solve due to lack of transparency and policy issues. I have no hope for this government to do better than what they are doing now.

Chen Chow said...

Would suggest that family income is taken out of the point system of determining JPA Scholarships.

However, once a student gets the scholarship, family income is applied to see how much funding the student would get. So, student A from this family income might get 50% scholarships, whereas student B might get 90% scholarship and student C might get 100% scholarship.

In this case, students who come from rich family might not get "discriminated", and the government can allocate more scholarships in this manner, since there will be sufficient fund to fund for more than 2,000 people, since not everyone would be getting 100% scholarships.

This might be able to satisfy more people.

Perhaps certain point system/weightage can be given to those who need affirmative action - be it due to family income/location of student/racial etc. What Kian Ming mentioned is that it should be transparent. Once it is transparent, I think that would solve some problems.

nemolovesjj said...

the best way to avoid scholars didnt come back to seve for country is to make them pay double or triple the money that the gov had spend for them!!!!
i promised myself to serve for the country!!!!!!!!!!

and if those so very excellence students also didnt come back and serve for our country,im sorry if i used vulgar words to them in the future.......

Anonymous said...

"I always feel that more information and transparency is better."

always the case, for sure, in any matters of administration. problem is the contamination of politics.

Anonymous said...

The JPA overseas scholarship issue once again has reared its ugly head, and which it will do so again next year and in more years to come. Putting aside the dilemma the selection panel face each year in determining 'deserving' students which they have to contend with the ridiculous huge number of top scorers, the JPA should come up with decisions that are seen by unsuccessful applicants as being transparent and fair.

Most people associate the award of a scholarship with academic excellence plus need, and this might be the real reason behind the award of scholarships in the first place. So when children from well-to-do families get offers as they have done well in exams, that is meritocracy at work, but many may find this fact hard to accept. To them it is morally wrong for a rich man's son or daughter to accept a scholarship. (I know of a student who was awarded a scholarship to do medicine in the UK and she had the luxury to be able to fly there to check on a few potential universities to finally decide on one)

Trying to make the award of overseas scholarship fairer, the JPA has recently come up with clearer guidelines, one of which is the consideration of family background, and which the JPA alotted 10%. So those who have excelled academically and claim that they are poor should deserve a scholarship.

But has the relevant authorities, in this case, the JPA, been able to ascertain the authenticity of claims made by applicants as regards their family background? This has always been a thorny issue as it goes back to the school level when (quite recently) secondary students are needed to feed into the computer personal particulars which include family income. It is very simple; what is uttered by a student is accepted, and those data stay unless they are corrected or updated. This is SMM (Sistem Maklumat Pelajar). Scholarship awards at school-level are based on the information found in the SMM, and the recommended list of deserving students comes from the Ministry. The school carries out a simple interview and in most cases the smarter students know what to say, and the less smart ones will be told by their parents what to say. The point here is that human greed manifests itself at every level: being a teacher myself I find it quite nauseating to find students who are not truthful(and the fact that Pendidikan Moral and religious education are taught in schools). But are they to blame when their parents repeatedly remind them to say 'RM800.00' if they are asked about monthly income?(as they have been told that those who earn more than RM1000 are not eligible for financial assistance) "And what does your father do?".....well, blacksmith, shop assistant, carpenter, self-employed, etc. But there are cases of below RM800.00 earners who own SUVs and luxury cars at home. There's not much the school can do. Of course, there are real cases of poverty around.

I might have digressed a bit from the issue with regard to the JPA scholarship, but the point is how does the selection panel within the JPA determine the background of a candidate? From the SMM or from what they claim in their application form?

Anonymous said...

One issue needs to be discussed is that many filthy rich china man declares they are poor coz not pay income tax.. they are just farmers and fishers rich. They also deprive the poor chinese children of getting scholarship. JPA must take this into considerable coz they are still chinese that cheats ....

Anonymous said...

Of the hoo.. hah etc. The criteria is very clear if anyone care to read the JPA web page.

The fact that for many students who are being called for interview have fulfilled the criteria fully.

Got all A for related subject (15A - 20A don't count if it does not related)

Represent school at national level or equivalent (e.g. 2 at state level, chairnman, president etc).

Income criteria of 1500 (or 2000).

The fact that of 17000 applicants only 9000 are called for interview for a place from the 2000 available.

The last one is the interview. For this year the interview are conducted by professionals and for every session there must be one non-bumiputra as the interviewee.

The interview session is about 30mins, and sometime the so called national debaters/15As can even phrase a proper sentence in English or Malay. How to consider?

Anonymous said...

I'm a chinese myself and it's sad to know that there are some rich (china-man) business man (who do not pay income tax) claiming they are poor and they deprive the sons and daughters of ordinary clerks from earning a scholarship.

Please don't assume that hawkers are poor people. They are wayyyy richer than an ordinary office worker.

Goh Haw Zan said...

Maybe the other way in solving these problems is to boost the standard of SPM so that there will be less 'deserving students'

former student said...


actually there is a bond between JPA and scholarship scholarship awardee. 7 years for engineering programmes and 10 years for medicine. The problem is that there is no action taken when students do not honour the bond. I know many of them who are not "patriotic" enough to come back. Ungrateful bunch.

siriusrigel said...

i think jpa will not blindly choose candidates to be awarded scholarship..there shud be sufficient reasons why jpa were making such decisions... for those bunch of excellent students, it's true that it's such a waste if they are not offered to study abroad but maybe jpa is trying to prevent malaysians' talents from flowing out and to study in malaysia itself should be all right too since malaysia's universities are not of low standards... and and... choices of course actually played crucial role in either a candidate can be awarded scholarship. so i think, ppl shud not blame on jpa alone.. more importantly, jpa is wat? people working for jpa are not of simply ones, they do things based on available resources. im sure that jpa will not meddle around with these students and to just simply choose a student to either study abroad or locally...
Jpa shud expand the capacity of local u and get the best students to study locally. Then the reputation of local u can only rise. Send students to overseas shud only be on subjects that are unavailable locally... hmmm...
anyway, some students are so good that they have many other options other than jpa.
last but nt least, why shud jpa pay attention on everyone? just do wat they think is right and best. of course some will be dissatisfied but if jpa is to pay attention on everything, nothing can be done.

Anonymous said...

Kian Ming for Education Minister! And put a stop to all these cry father cry mother JPA scholars wannabes.

Poor, with academic excellence does not equate to scholarship. Someone got to remind them that life is tough.

Shawn Tan said...

JPA's biggest problem isn't in the scholarship award but in getting the people back. The way that our government scholars are treated is quite appalling. I don't really blame them if they get turned-off by the country and decide to go elsewhere where they are better valued. As a result, with little ROI on these students, JPA has a problem justifying giving out their scholarships. They also lose motivation in trying to help a bunch of so-called 'ingrates'. Vicious cycle continues.

JPA is not the be-all-end-all scholarship. There are plenty of other scholarships to apply for - both local and foreign. Students should be given the necessary information and opportunities necessary to apply for them (maybe on the JPA website itself). During my days, lots of the students were already awarded scholarships even before they finish their SPM exams. I believe that such things are still happening today. It's not a good idea to clamor for these things at the last minute. It also helps to reduce the JPA workload and function as the scholarship awarding body of first and last resort.

JPA could be removed from the scholarship selection/award process entirely and be made scholarship administrators. The selection and hiring of the students could be handled by each government ministry/department/GLC separately. They are usually in a better position to know their manpower requirements over the next 3-5 years anyway. JPA then, just becomes a 'fund' for the rest of these organisations to get money from. Afterall, they would need to spend money, in either hiring and training other staff anyway.

Anonymous said...

"ask not what your country can do for you—ask what you can do for your country."

More A's doesnt mean a student is more excellent. He/she might only took simpler/useless subjects which dont match the courses applied.

This is bad after all, why should we encourage students to take more and more subjects? JPA knows more than anyone. There's something wrong with the public perspectives on EXCELLENCY. Even the Education Minister also stated those with more A1's deserved the scholarship than a 9A1 student who meets the requirements perfectly.

In front of chance, everyone is equal.

Anonymous said...

''(iv) Allow other GLCs to recruit these JPA scholars but with the caveat that these GLCs have to pay back a certain value of the scholarships (but with a discount) so that the taxpayers' money is accounted for''

JPA do transfer the contracts of scholars to GLC like Petronas, TM, TNB, etc.

tan said...

I just wanna rant about JPA being bias. Disclaimer : i am under the ASEAN scholarship, studying in SG (batch 08/09). Please do not see this as me boasting but rather see it critically.

As a student, i dont really care much about politics and all; i just want an opportunity to study. but all i have to say is that if Singapore wants me and other scholars like myself, doesnt that already say something?

RECENT EXAMPLES of my batch scholars:

Kai Zhong (Victoria JC - 1st in cohort)
Theen Yew (Temasek JC - 1st in cohort)
(i merely finished 6th..)

TJ & VJ are top 5 jcs and both top students are direct scholars from malaysia. kaizhong went for the JPA interview and didnt get it. theenyew couldnt bear expenses to return from singapore for the interview itself. it goes without saying both had fabulous results with 13A1s etc.

yes yes, u ask what if their interview sucks? but no bullshit, u're telling me they suck TOO bad that cant pass an interview when stringent kiasu singaporeans passed them?

And here, people are complaining that we have a brain drain in malaysia, when top students are being lured off EASILY (what? i just get 200sgd + lodging/food in a 8x3m room shared by two people per month which is BARELY enough)

How can some claim that overseas scholars are not patriotic and dont want to serve the country, when we're not even given opportunities? How can i come to love my country when i basically have to throw myself at the mercy of others for an opportunity to just.. study..

Anonymous said...

I can,t get jpa scholarship for acturial science.Got 10straight A,s but what is the point.Wish someone can help.Acturial science sholarship is only for bumiputeras,talk about 1 malaysia.It applies only for non malays only i guess.It is an eyewash for the nons.

Anonymous said...

all this jest about 1 malaysia is an eyewash for the non malays.It even shows in the jpa scholarships availibility for applications.