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“Wholesale revamp” of scholarship system needed

Azmi Sharom (right, making a point) and Nik Nazmi Nik Ahmad
Azmi Sharom (right, making a point) and Nik Nazmi Nik Ahmad

KUALA LUMPUR, 22 May 2009: A parliamentary roundtable meeting comprising opposition Members of Parliament (MPs), academics, and former Public Services Department (PSD) scholars have called for a “wholesale revamp” of the scholarship system.

Among the resolutions adopted by the roundtable was the formation of a parliamentary select committee to “drive the revamping” of the scholarship system. This would be formed in next month’s sitting of Parliament.

“This committee should comprise both sides of the political divide,” DAP parliamentarian and youth chief Anthony Loke Siew Fook told The Nut Graph.

Loke said that the select committee would study the problem, gather feedback from relevant stakeholders, and come up with the best course of action.

The problem of SPM top scorers not being selected for PSD scholarships has been ongoing for many years. Many parties, including the MCA, DAP and MIC, have called for a review of the selection criteria which are currently based on four criteria — merit (20%), race (60%), Sabah and Sarawak citizens (10%) and students from underprivileged groups (10%).

The roundtable meeting today also called for an additional sum of RM300 million for PSD scholarships, to award all 2008 SPM students with 10A1s and above with scholarships, “at least to study in local universities”. This would increase the total PSD scholarship provision to RM1 billion.

Tony Pua (left, making a point) and Anthony Loke
Tony Pua (left, making a point) and Anthony Loke

Besides Loke, the roundtable included DAP adviser Lim Kit Siang, Petaling Jaya Utara MP Tony Pua, Serdang MP Teo Nie Ching, Kuala Selangor MP Dr Dzulkefly Ahmad, and Selangor state assemblyperson for Seri Setia Nik Nazmi Nik Ahmad.

It also included Universiti Malaya law lecturer Azmi Sharom, academician Datuk Dr Denison Jayasooria from Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia, and former JPA scholars Adlin Abdul Majid and Izad Shahadi Sallehuddin.

Long-term resolutions

The roundtable was careful to note that the above measures would only address the issue for the short term. Its suggestions for long-term resolutions include:

Bulletpoint 1 A revamp of the PSD scholarship application procedures and candidate selection process, including a review of the interview system;

The creation of two levels of scholarships: one for the pre-university level (STPM, A-Levels, South Australian Matriculation, etc), and another for university undergraduate programmes;

The appointment of officers to track the progress and performance of scholars throughout their scholarship tenures;

More investment in local education, to make Malaysian universities more attractive destinations for top students;

And the establishment of an efficient system to attract and recruit graduated PSD scholars into the public service workforce.

“Each scholar sponsored to go overseas would cost the government RM500,000 in total. It is imperative for the government to reap from the investments that were made on each scholar,” read a statement containing the roundtable’s two-part resolution.

“We acknowledge the need to reform the award system of the PSD scholarship scheme, in order to solve once and for all the recurrent problems that the scholarship scheme has attracted over the years,” added the statement.

“We will hand over these resolutions to Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department Datuk Seri Nazri [Abd Aziz], and we will raise this issue in the next parliamentary sitting,” Loke said.

Loke styled Deputy Prime Minister Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin’s announcement that the government would limit SPM examination-takers to 10 subjects for JPA scholarship consideration as a “short-term solution”.

“Just limiting the number of subjects doesn’t mean the problem will be solved,” Loke stressed, adding that the whole PSD scholarship mechanism needed to be studied.

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5 Responses to ““Wholesale revamp” of scholarship system needed”

  1. If the current criteria set is as mentioned above, then it definitely requires adjustment. However, I would like to also note that under the Public Service Department’s scholarship programme, every single person is offered a scholarship in exchange for service after they’ve finished their studies.

    As such, I’d like to see the number of those who abscond from their service years in exchange for conversion to a loan.

    We continually see this figure being left out.

  2. Siew Eng says:

    Is investing more money enough to make local universities attractive? I think it’s the stifling environment, even with the recently ‘liberalised’ UUCA, that is the biggest put-off. It’s the feudalistic rules and lack of free-enquiry culture that straitjacket students when their idealism, energy and eagerness to explore are at the highest, when they should be leading the charge for societal change. As they did in the 1970s. And pre-Merdeka.

    The whole education system needs revamping – and long overdue, at that. But the kementerian appears to be doing its best, to hear it from a PhD student from the ministry who caught KOMAS’s “Gadoh” yesterday and, besides missing the point of the film (which was about racism rather than “masalah disiplin pelajar”), said she did not like a character’s opinion that it was the system that had failed the students.

  3. Nicholas Aw says:

    Revamping the scholarship award system is not going to solve the problem of awarding PSD scholarships. The Education Minister seems to think that limiting the number of subjects taken for SPM, it will reduce if not eliminate the problem of the PSD scholarship awards.

    Let us not see the wood for the trees. Perhaps limiting the number of subjects taken will help in a small way but I think the minister should focus on bringing back the standard and recognition of not only the SPM but also the various other public examinations right up to the tertiary level. Please don’t read me wrong but I honestly feel that if the Education Ministry and in particular the Examination Syndicate are able to revise their benchmarks in determining the grades, then the problem of the yearly PSD scholarship award can be completely solved once and for all.

    The problem is there are too many YES men at the different hierarchy of the education system. Lowering cut-off point or marks for a certain grade results in more students getting straight A’s. Everybody is happy with this – right from the students and their parents and teachers to the Minister himself. Everybody’s happiness is the PSD’s horror as the latter’s work becomes complicated as there are too many straight A students and too few PSD scholarships to give out.

    This problem is compounded by the students’ mindset that they deserve a PSD scholarship as they have obtained straight A’s.

    Education Minister, I challenge you to take a bold step in revamping the criteria for awarding grades. Of course there will be a big hue and cry initially but your bold step will reap in more fruit in the long run. Among them: the SPM certificate will be recognised overseas and also all other certificates; the PSD has less headache in awarding scholarships and the graduates become more marketable.

    Please don’t deny by saying that “But oh! Our SPM, STPM and all other exams are recognised. We have the MQA to monitor the tertiary institutions both public and private”. If this is the case, why are there many students who score a ’1A’ in the English Language who can’t even string a decent sentence in English? It is also public knowledge that a student scoring a miserable 10 percent for Mathematics gets a P8 which is a PASS.
    Our neighbour down south must be quietly mocking us. If you don’t believe me, go compare the SPM English Language Paper to that of Primary Six paper in Singapore. Probably, the Minister might jump out of his seat and say that this is not a fair comparison. So do we want to compare our standard with that of Vietnam or Myanmar?

    But Education Minister, please accept my two sen’s worth of advice and go take that drastic action to put back our education system back on track.

    Regards,
    Nicholas Aw

  4. D Lim says:

    This is an issue on ‘scholarship criteria’ so I shall not dwell into the state of our educational system which is another debatable issue.
    Selection criteria for scholarships should be made as ‘transparent’ as possible. Without transparency, (in anything) the whole thing will be subject to rumours and the guessing game.
    Now how to make it transparent? It’s not rocket science.
    Put the selection criteria in differences phases. The first should be academic results eg. those who score 10As and above (including compulsory scores in some basic subjects like language and maths and etc.). Those who get through will be put through to the next selection phase. This phase may be the extra curricular phase ie. what roles have the student played in school? What are we looking for in the student? Leadership skills? Community contribution?
    After this, let’s look at the economic status of the student’s family/family income.
    Lastly, if the government wants more Malay Malaysian students to have scholarships, be upfront about it. No one will complain if it is done openly and it’s a deserving student.
    Until transparency and a proper system is inculcated into the system of selection, there will always be unhappiness and alienation of students who do not qualify for the scholarships.
    Good luck!

  5. dominik says:

    For long term solutions, we must also look at how to bring up the standard of living of the lower income/poor/underprivileged group of students. One of the ways is through education. Thus 50% of the scholarships should be allocated to this group of students and the best 5% of this group be given overseas scholarships.

    Race as well as “cables” should not be a criteria at all in selection. The problem would be in the “monitoring” of the selection process.


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