Must read about JPA scholarship….

Extracted ffrom Malaysiakini

JPA scholarships – beyond racial quotas

Ong Kian Ming and Oon Yeoh | Jun 7, 08 11:44am
Previously, we discussed the of the change in the racial quota for the JPA overseas scholarship allocation. In this article, we want to bring up certain weaknesses in regards to this scholarship which many politicians and NGO representatives do not bring up when supporting or criticizing the latest policy change. 

These weaknesses cut across racial lines which should tell us that often, we have to take off our racial lens and look beyond them in discussing issues of this nature.

JPA offers two types of scholarships. They offer approximately 2,000 overseas scholarships and 10,000 local scholarships. The overseas scholarship is obviously the more prestigious scholarship and garners most of the public press and dissatisfaction.

Most of the public is unaware of the cost of the overseas scholarships. A conservative estimate is that one overseas scholarship costs roughly RM200,000. A degree in a university in London or in a top private university in the US would cost more, perhaps between RM300,000 to RM400,000. Using the lower and more conservative estimate, one cohort of JPA scholars would cost the taxpayers roughly RM400 million. While this pales in comparison to the billions of ringgit spent on oil subsidies, it is still no laughing matter.  

So if Umno Youth proposes an increase in the number of overseas scholarships from 2000 to 3000, we are talking about an additional allocation of RM200 million, not an insignificant amount.

In addition, the public is probably unaware of the fact that the return on investment, so to speak, from the JPA overseas scholarship is almost non-existent. Almost ALL overseas JPA scholars do not end up working for the JPA or the government. Many of them choose to stay overseas. Those who come back to Malaysia often end up working for the private sector which provides better pay, working conditions and promotion prospects. (Those who are sponsored to do medicine may be the only exception)

Furthermore, almost ALL of these scholars who break their JPA bonds do not pay a single cent back. It is a standing joke among some JPA scholars that when they go back home, they notify JPA that they are back, submit an application form to the JPA and then wait for them to ‘lose’ these forms and release these scholars from their JPA obligations.

In other words, these scholarships are given away, more or less, for FREE to these scholars.

No structure

One may ask – why doesn’t the JPA ask these scholars to work for them or to work for another government department or ministry? The sad fact of the matter is that there is currently no structure within the public service that can fully utilize the skills and smarts of JPA scholars. Unlike the Singapore PSC, the equivalent to the JPA, scholars are not rotated and fast tracked within the different ministries that they might be allocated to.

rais yatim akademi seni convocation 211206 students In addition, there is probably very little appetite among some in the public service who do not want to see smart and capable JPA scholars coming in to ‘shake things up’ and possibly outshine them. Hence the current ‘close one eye’ policy of not forcing these scholars to work for the government or to ask them to pay the bond back in any form or fashion. Again, breaking the JPA bond cuts across racial lines which is not surprising given the current state of our policies.

Can Malaysia really afford this kind of policy? Even Singapore, by far a richer country than Malaysia, is not so generous in giving out scholarships to its citizens without having them to work for it or to pay it back. The Singapore government is infamous for chasing down bond breakers and forcing them to pay back the value of their scholarships, often at punitive interest rates.

There is a school of thought which says that the social benefits of sponsoring these scholars to go abroad and then releasing them to work for the private sector is more beneficial to the country compared to forcing them to work for the government. This argument is flawed in many ways.

Firstly, it ignores the fact that many JPA scholars do not even come back to work in Malaysia. Given that JPA does not release figures of where these JPA scholars end up working (one doubts if they even know), we cannot even be sure of the percentage of scholars who come back to work in Malaysia.

Secondly, it assumes that these scholars would not have been able to obtain other scholarships either from Malaysia or from overseas if the JPA scholarship did not exist. There are many other organisations in Malaysia which provides overseas scholarships such as Bank Negara, Petronas, Telekom and Tenaga, just to name a few. Some, especially Petronas, have much better track records of keeping their scholars or asking those who break their bonds to pay it back.

Thirdly, it assumes that the social benefits accruing from these scholars going overseas to study is somehow higher than if they had remained in Malaysia and did their degree in a public university. This is hard to justify since a smart and motivated citizen would be able to contribute to society whether he or she studies abroad or at home. In fact, one can make the argument that the social benefit of a scholar staying at home would be greater than going overseas since this would increase the overall quality of students in our public universities.

Look beyond racial quota

The social benefits argument clearly does not hold water.

Some of the other criticisms of this policy change also fail to look beyond the racial quota. An example of this is the statement made by ABIM addressing its concern over this policy change on the grounds that the poverty level among Malays is higher than the other communities and indirectly arguing that Malays should be given the larger share of these scholarships.

students protest campus election suhakam 240807 playcardWhat these critics conveniently ignore is the distribution of these scholarships among the Malays. In most countries where affirmative action is practiced, it is usually the middle and upper middle class of the targeted community that benefits from these policies. This is certainly the case in the US where minority students (Black and Hispanic) who are in the top universities come disproportionately from middle and upper middle class families. We would not be surprised if the same is found in the Malaysian context – that the JPA scholars, including the Malays, come disproportionately from middle and upper middle class families. Hence the argument that the previous racial quota should be maintained on the grounds of helping poor Malays is not a sound one.

It is a little saddening that ABIM, a well respected Muslim NGO, would want to deal with this issue that does not directly deal with the issue of Islam. Even from the perspective of justice, it seems that they like other Malay organizations, only care about the issue when changes in racial quotas are involved and totally ignore the distributional impact of policies within the Malay community.

Such arguments also ignore another related change in the JPA policy which is to automatically provide a scholarship to those with 10A1s and above and whose families earn less than RM1,500 a month, regardless of race. Surely such a means tested policy is more just than a blind racial quota from a progressive and an Islamic perspective.

More information is always better than less especially for those interested in researching this area. If the JPA were to collect and then release relevant data on the allocation of these scholarships – race, SPM results, family income, university, whether they return to Malaysia, where they end up working, etc… – then perhaps some of the doubts surrounding the JPA scholarship could be quelled. More importantly, it could guide us towards making better policies in regards to the JPA scholarship.

To summarize, there are more important issues surrounding the JPA scholarship other than the racial quota. Most important is the fact that the returns on investment from these scholarships is almost non-existent since these scholars don’t return to work for the government (if they do come back at all) nor do they pay back their bonds. Given the high cost associated with these scholarships, this situation is not tenable in the long run.

Yesterday: JPA scholarships – who loses, who wins?


ONG KIAN MING is a PhD candidate in political science at Duke University and OON YEOH is a writer and new media analyst. You can listen to both of them discuss this topic in their Realpolitik podcast.

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1 Comment

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One response to “Must read about JPA scholarship….

  1. Discrimination69,

    I have been following many articles and news on JPA scholarships and sympathise the poor needy students who struggled hard to help the family get out of poverty through a better education. Gone are the old stories of a deserving poor rubber tapper, washer woman, sweeper , cleaner or widow’s kids who excell academically and are given a scholarship to help them out of the cycle of poverty irregardless of race?

    I wish to share my personal experiences with regards to scholarships and discrimination and the faulty policies we have at our doorstep.

    I was a scholarship holder from one of the government agencies before, i served my bond full eight years plus 5 more years and faced all the racial discrimination at work during the peak of NEP implementation.

    I even missed a United Nations scholarship to do Masters degree in London when the agency dept head refused to release me on study leave all coz no scholarship given to Bumi and i was the only non bumi candidate. The scholarship was finally not awarded to anyone as there was only one scholarship available and the United Nations Agency didnt want to give it to a bumi.

    Had many malay colleagues who disappeared after graduation and didnt pay a single cent back and was not pursued by JPA but released from all bonds.

    Finally i resigned after serving the agency for a total of 15 years and gave them the prime of my life in service but was not appreciated. We never expected any or got any promotion and was always sidelined in favour of bumis who were fighting politically to get promotions.

    Having witnessed how politicians make use of government agencies for their benefit and how the agencies were raped of all budget and resources i decided that enough is enough as i was going through a period of mental and psychological degradation for not being utilised fully.

    Even malay bosses wrongly aligned to political masters were sidelined for promotions. They were too busy jostling for positions than to care for the non bumis or their work.

    All these happened in the 70s and 80s, i left in 1988 as i couldnt leave earlier due to the 1984 recession. With no EPF savings and no pension or any form of gratuity i started my career anew in the private sector, having no regrets of my drastic decision.

    The civil service is overstaffed by 50% with alot of dead wood and non-functioning staff. The non bumis were the ones holding the fort and being given all the donkey work but not rewards.

    I can understand what a scholarship can do to uplift a person from the ruts of poverty but it must be for those deserving and who makes the academic grade. Seen many lesser bumis given scholarships but cant function at work except play racial and office politics.

    I think the situation has got worse as fewer non bumis want to join the civil service and more government departments are almost 98% bumis. Thats why many complicated jobs are placed to consultants to think through the systems but when put to operations they fail after sometime as the internal staff cannot man the new system
    and it becomes a white elephant. Some examples are the computerisation of land offices and even the local councils.

    Sadly, corruption starts at racial cronyism and lobsided racial composition in the civil service that removed the internal checks and balances.

    The corruption disease is at an advanced stage and to dismantle and rectify all these may take another 50 or more years. Everything has to be reviewed and reset and there surely will bring discontent among the bumis who are used to freebies and not work. Wonder how the mass lower and middle level civil servants are going to make ends meet with inflation looming?

    Easiest way is to “ask and ye shall be given”, ask for more commission or cuts by those in authority, create opportunities and explain they need these to fight inflation, leading to a newer corrupt lifestyle as advised by the government to change their lifestyle.

    Originating from Malacca and the 13th generation here with distinction in Bahasa Melayu in SPM, i didnt feel Malaysian at all but just accepted the system then just to get out of poverty.

    I thank God and the government at that time for the opportunity to obtain a scholarship and alleviate me out of the black hole of poverty and speak from my heart the plight
    of the academically capable and poor students irregardless of race, sex, or religion.

    What we are are because of our genes and the environment we are subject to, we cant change our genes so no point giving scholarships based on racial cronysism.

    Cant make a stupid person smarter by sending him to university, we have a few thousand testimonies of unemployed graduates already, when can we start learning our mistakes?

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