Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Yayasan 1 Malaysia Press Release - The Scholarship Imbroglio


Petaling Jaya, 9 June 2011 – Every year the scholarship issue creates much angst within certain segments of Malaysian society. This has a negative effect upon ethnic relations.

This is why Yayasan 1Malaysia (YIM) welcomes the proposed review of the Public Service Department’s (PSD) scholarship policy announced by Minister Datuk Seri Mohamed Nazri Abdul Aziz on June 1 2011. One hopes a new policy will reduce the disappointment and unhappiness among young Malaysians and their families which is often manifested along ethnic lines.

As a citizen input into the formulation of this new policy, YIM would like to put forward the following ideas for the consideration of the government.

1) A review of the marking and evaluation scheme for SPM which has resulted in an inflation of A achievers in the last few years. It is an inflation that does not appear to bear any relationship to their actual level of intellectual competence and ability. On the contrary, the granting of multiple As to such a large number of students has debased the value of the grade itself. It has also raised expectations unnecessarily, and consequently, aggravated feelings of disappointment when these students do not get what they feel they deserve.

2) A comprehensive revamp of the whole concept of scholarships so that a scholarship by definition will embody the principle of academic excellence and scholastic achievement. To enhance its prestige, it could be designated as the “Yang DiPertuan Agong Scholarship” and should only be bestowed upon a small number of recipients every year, perhaps not more than 100. Most of these scholarships would be for courses offered locally, though some would be for overseas studies, especially in disciplines or specialisations that are not available at home. The scholarships would cover a whole range of subjects. It is important that those pursuing vocational and technical courses also receive these prestigious scholarships if only to emphasise the pivotal significance of such skills for the future of our nation. A much bigger pool of our good students should be in the vocational and technical spheres if Malaysia is to achieve developed nation status.

Apart from their SPM results, their extra-curricular activities in school would also be taken into consideration in the award of the scholarships. An interview conducted by an independent panel would also be a factor just as the principle of equitable balance that underlies Article 153 of the Constitution would carry some weight. Those who are sent abroad would be required to return and serve the nation.

3) The award of a substantial number of grants or bursaries to a second category of SPM high achievers from a fund to which both the public and private sectors would contribute. The recipients would all study locally. While academic excellence would figure prominently in the selection, much more weight would be given to the socio-economic background of the candidate, compared to the first group. Poor students from Sabah and Sarawak in particular, regardless of ethnicity, would benefit from these grants. So would deserving Malay and non-Malay students from the lower echelons of society on the Peninsula.

4) Other candidates from disadvantaged backgrounds who have qualified for degree and diploma programmes in local colleges and universities could of course receive assistance from the government’s student loan scheme. Repayment modalities should be reinforced considerably to ensure that there are zero defaulters.

It is not just a question of restructuring our scholarship policy. The Malaysian mind-set vis-a-vis scholarships should also undergo a transformation. A scholarship is not a right— the God-given right of those who have attained a string of SPM As. It is an award that carries a responsibility, the responsibility to study hard and to serve society.

Malaysians should also resist the temptation of interpreting the scholarship issue solely along ethnic lines. While ethnicity has shaped the policy to some extent— after all, even during the British colonial period, Malay scholarships were part of their affirmative action programme for the community— it is undeniably true that the real challenge today is distributing a scarce resource equitably in a situation where the number of applicants, whatever their ethnic affiliations, has grown exponentially. In this regard, it is incumbent upon those who are entrusted with the task of managing the allocation of scholarships to be just and fair to all communities. Any whiff of bias would be a grave disservice to the nation. Similarly, applicants who are rightly concerned about their own well-being should also be aware of how the issue impacts upon others. There is always a big picture on this as in other issues. In a multi-ethnic society, the willingness to go beyond one’s own ethnic self is a fundamental requisite for inter-ethnic harmony.

Dr. Chandra Muzaffar,


Board of Trustees,

Yayasan 1Malaysia.

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