KUALA LUMPUR, 2 June 2009: A proposal to limit overseas Public Service Department (PSD) scholarships to students who have completed Form Six or pre-university equivalents has been well-received by at least one Barisan Nasional (BN) minister.
Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department Datuk Seri Nazri Aziz said the idea merited further thought as it appeared to be a viable solution in reducing the number of applicants for overseas placements.
Competition for overseas government scholarships is stiff with only 2,000 places available. This year, like previous years, has seen straight-A Sijil Pelajaran Malaysia (SPM) students crying foul over being denied overseas placements. More than 15,000 students applied for PSD scholarships this year.
A recent parliamentary roundtable meeting on PSD scholarships proposed the creation of two-tier scholarships – one for pre-university level (e.g. STPM, A-levels, South Australian Matriculation), and another for university undergraduates.
The roundtable suggested that the first level be awarded to SPM top-scorers, and be limited to local placements. The second level of scholarships would only be open to students who completed pre-university programmes and who have secured places in overseas universities as first-year undergraduates.
Nazri, who is also the minister in charge of PSD scholarships, said he supported the idea as it seemed realistic. The PSD is housed under the Prime Minister’s Department.
“I strongly support this. It is a good idea and I will look into this,” he said today after receiving a memorandum on the resolutions passed by the parliamentary roundtable.
DAP members of parliament Anthony Loke (Rasah), Tony Pua (Petaling Jaya Utara), and Teo Nie Ching (Serdang) presented Nazri the memorandum in parliament today.
Nazri (white shirt) receiving the memorandum from Anthony Loke. Other MPs are (from left) Tony Pua,
N Gobalakrishnan, and Teo Nie Ching
Pua told Nazri that limiting overseas placements to those who had completed pre-university programmes would “naturally reduce” the number of students applying for overseas scholarships as compared to allowing SPM graduates to apply.
“This is not about race quotas anymore but about measuring performance,” Pua said.
Don’t politicise scholarships
Nazri said he was receptive to most of the points in the memorandum which were endorsed by the parliamentary roundtable.
However, he rejected the proposal to establish a parliamentary select committee to hear appeals by aggrieved scholarship applicants and to spearhead reform of the scholarship system.
“To set up a parliamentary select committee would be to politicise education since the MPs will be from either opposition or government. This is best left to the PSD,” he told the DAP MPs.
Similarly, Nazri also rejected another proposal to set up a committee to monitor the performance of scholars throughout their scholarship tenure.
10 subjects for SPM
Overall, Nazri said it would still be impossible to give scholarship applicants what they wanted as the government had to cater to the needs of local research universities.
“If we detain some of these top-scorers to study in local universities, it is out of necessity. Otherwise the standards of our local institutions will drop,” he said.
He added that the government was looking to invest more in improving the quality of local universities so as to make them attractive to scholars. This was also one of the suggestions made by the roundtable.
Nazri said the government’s plan to limit the number of SPM subjects to 10 from next year was also aimed at streamlining the selection process of awarding scholarships.
“What does excellent mean when you compare someone who has ten A1s with someone who has 13 A1s? It is not fair to those who took 10 subjects. And you can’t just throw those who got 13 As aside.”
Pua noted that the 10-subject limit would pose problems for Chinese-language school students, who took more subjects. Nazri replied that the government was still listening to feedback on the matter.