Thursday, June 18, 2009

Making sense of the JPA numbers

Read this article in the Star about a question directed to Nazri in parliament in regard to JPA scholarships. I'll reproduce it in full below since it has a lot of numbers in it. My comments follow.

68% of merit scholarships went to non-Bumiputra

KUALA LUMPUR: Nearly 68% or 280 of the Public Service Department (PSD) scholarships under the 20% merit-category were awarded to non-bumiputras, said Minister in the Prime Minister's Department Datuk Seri Nazri Aziz.

He said only about 32% or 135 scholarships were awarded to bumiputra in the latest round of applications for the PSD's overseas degree programme.

"This proves that the award was not based on skin color, that the Government is fair in the selection of the 20% without looking at race, culture or religion but based on academic excellence," he told Lim Kit Siang (DAP - Ipoh Timur) in Parliament Tuesday.

He also said that PSD scholarships looked at academic excellence based on nine subjects chosen by the student relevant to the degree of their choice.

"This limit was set to ensure all students were on an equal playing field because not all schools had the same facilities and teaching manpower," he said in reply to Tan Ah Eng (BN - Gelang Patah).

At the Parliament lobby, Nazri said: “We do not do things without referring to the Federal Constitution, which means that we cannot give all for merit,” he said.

Out of 2,100 PSD scholarships for students to study abroad this year, 20%, which is 417, was reserved for those with merit, regardless of race and religion, he said.

Of the 417, almost 68% were given to non-bumiputras based on merit and only 32% for bumiputras, he said.

On complaints by those with 13As and 14As and did not get scholarships, he said he could not give them because it was not fair since some schools did not allow students to take more than 10 subjects.

That was why the Government wanted to base it on 10 subjects only, he said.

Inside the dewan, Nazri said for year 2009, PSD offered 1,176 scholarships to Bumiputras and 924 to non-Bumiputras.

He also said that more than RM2.8bil in Public Service Department (PSD) sponsorships for overseas degree courses were given out between 2000 and 2008.

The sum was given to 12,485 recipients where 9,160 were bumiputera and 3,325 were non-bumiputera.

The breakdown of table showed that allocation for scholarships increased from RM109mil in year 2000 to RM659mil last year.

Similarly, the number of students also increased from 748 in year 2000 to 2,000 last year, while 598 Bumiputra students getting scholarships in 2000 and increased to 1,100 last year.

For non-Bumiputra, number of students in year 2000 was 150 and had increased to 900 last year.

From Jan 14, 2009, the awarding criteria of the Overseas Degree Programme was divided into four categories, he said.

The first was based on academic excellence without counting race and socio-economic backgrounds where selection was based on academic results (85%), co-curriculum (10%) and interviews (5%).

The category was based on current racial population ratios where one race's allocation would be divided to others if it was not used.

"Selection is also made based on academic excellence with at least A2 in all core and elective subjects.

"At the same time, the candidates were also selected based on their secondary school co-curriculum participation, families' socio-economic backgrounds and interviews," he said.

The third category, he said, were for Sabah (5%) and Sarawakian (5%) bumiputra.

The last category was given to socially disadvantaged students from rural areas with limited facilities and from low-income families.

Nazri added that applicants in categories three and four also had to have at least A2s in all subjects relevant to their degree of choice, which made up 65% of the selection criteria.

He said students under the programme were sent for first degrees in the US, UK, Ireland, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Japan, South Korea, Russie, Germany, France, Czech Republic, Poland, Egypt, Jordan, India and Indonesia.

Some general comments:

According to Nazri, 1176 out of 2100 overseas JPA scholarships were given to Bumiputra students while the rest went to non-bumi students. This is very close to the 55 / 45 ethnic quota which the government promised in June 2008.

The composition of these scholarships is as follows:

60% allocated based on 'excellence' as well as the racial composition of the country.

20% allocated purely on merit without considering any ethnic quotas.

10% allocated to students from Sabah and Sarawak (which is not the 20% promised earlier)

10% allocated to students from disadvantaged backgrounds (no ethnic quota specified).

If 280 non-bumi students were allocated the JPA scholarship from the purely merit based portion, this would mean that a balance of 644 non-bumi students were given the JPA scholarship from the other two allocations i.e. the 60% allocation based on 'excellence' and racial composition of the country and the 10% allocation based on the background of a student.

Questions of ethnic quotas aside, this kind of reply from Nazri doesn't really give me any more confidence in the way in which these JPA scholarship recipients are chosen. For example, how is the pool of 20% purely merit based students selected? How are they different from the group of 'excellent' students from which the 60% allocation is given? How is a 'disadvantaged' background determined?

Unless there is more transparency in regard to the criteria for giving out these scholarships, beyond the superficial information of 60%, 20%, 10%, 10% allocated to whom and what, the questioning of the JPA scholarship allocation will continue to rage on and on.


Shawn Tan said...

Like you said, it is a question of numbers. We'd all like to see the racial composition taken out of the equation. However, the issue of scholarships is explicitly mentioned in Article 153 of our Constitution. So, Nazri is right in saying that there is only so much that can be done about this. The 90/10 quota used previously was obviously too extreme. But I would think that a 55/45 split is more than fair under the circumstances.

However, what I have learned from the numbers given is that the cost per-student has increase accordingly, taking into account inflation and the increase in allowances in 2007/08. So, this isn't a case where the government has merely padded up the numbers by diluting the available scholarships. They have also increase the budget accordingly.

I would take this information on good faith for the moment.

I also agree that the selection should only be based on the requisite subjects, and not the total number of As. We all know that lots of these students are taking extra subjects just to pad up their results. There is no reason to take General Science, when you've already got Bio, Chem, and Physics already. JPA should totally ignore these padding subjects and stick to the basic core and electives.

Anonymous said...

maybe most of the talented bumi have been taken by MARA which offer more than 1,000 scholarships. that's why for merit category, only 32% bumi got JPA

Anonymous said...

u wrote with the notion and prejudice that all non bumi students fared better than the bumi students. is this true?

the non malays always have this feeling that if we line up all the SPM students from number one to the last, the top half of the students will be non Malays.

pure arrogance.

Unknown said...

arrogance? how about looking at facts for a moment?

I took my SPM in 2000, and it just makes me angry to know that in that year, the quota was 90/10. Pissed.

Tony, I wrote to you regarding the JPA postgraduate scholarship many times already. I feel so many unqualified people are getting the scholarships. Please ask for the statistics. THanks!!

Anonymous said...

I'm a private student currently doing medicine in Australia. Had straight A1's in SPMs but did not get offered a scholarhip. From first hand experience, i totally agree with tkahyap - so many unqualified people are getting the scholarships. Selection criteria are also entirely untransparent.

Not just that being unfair, by having so many JPA scholars already occupying university places, it was extremely tough for me to eventually secure a MBBS place in Australia as a private student. Universities were rejecting my applications before my final results were even released - which i assume is due to places being filled even before fair competition could occur.

Not only are the students unqualified, they come overseas not with the proper attitude for studying, but instead indulge in smoking and drinking (all races included).

The government should employ a fair policy - sponsor people only after they secure an offer from the universities. In that way, only truly qualified people would be sponsored and not some dodgy students getting 'pushed' into good universities just by being government sponsored students.

I truly hope this JPA system would change but i highly doubt anything will with judging by the current attitude of people in general and those high above.