Tuesday, March 1, 2016

Review JPA's 'convertible loan' scholarship policy

Media Statement by Yeo Bee Yin, State Assemblywoman for Damansara Utama on Saturday 27 February 2016.

We call upon Putrajaya to review JPA’s unjustifiable “convertible-loan” scholarship policy immediately.

Recently JPA has dropped another bombshell on its scholarship offer, of which all the scholarships it offers from 2016 will be in the form of convertible loan[1]. Upon completion of their studies, JPA scholars are mandated to work in public sector. If they choose to work in government-linked-companies (GLCs) or private sector, they will have to pay back 50% or 100% of the scholarship amount respectively.

Such policy is actually not an entirely new concept. Many JPA or govenrment scholars in the past have been made to sign the contracts that necessitate them to work in public sector if they are offered a job within a period of time after their study, failing which they are required to pay back the scholarship amount. In any case, the recently announced JPA “convertible loan” policy is unjustifiable and should be reviewed immediately.

Firstly, it is mind-boggling to see that another government agency, Talent Corp, is doing the reverse. Its Scholarship Talent Attraction and Retention (STAR) program helps government scholars to serve their scholarship bond with leading private sector companies (instead of public sector) “as a way of contributing back to the nation.”[2] According to Talent Corp website, there are a total of 1,681 STAR private/GLC employers[3].  Why on one hand, JPA makes it compulsory for the scholars to serve their bond in public sector and on another hand Talent Corp helps them to “escape” from it by connecting them to jobs in GLCs and private sector? Why the double work? Why wasting tax payers monies for Talent Corp to run STAR when what JPA can do is to allow the scholars to serve their bonds anywhere in Malaysia? 

Secondly, the terms and conditions of the “convertible loan” is unjustifiable as it may lead to using tax-payers monies to reward under-performers. Under such policy, a student with CGPA 2.8, who can’t get a job in private sector but can only wait for public sector job, can get the scholarship for free, while a highly competent student with CGPA 3.8, who is hired by a multi-national company through many rounds of competitive interviews, will be forced to pay back the scholarship amount in full.  If “convertible loan” is unavoidable, then the payback amount must be performance-based (academic and non-academic) and not based on in which sphere the scholars choose to work– public sector, GLCs or private sector, as long as they are in Malaysia.

Thirdly, I believe that this policy that forces all the top brains to work for the government does not best serve our national economic agenda. I believe that the role of private sector is equally if not more important than the public sector in driving the nation’s economy. To move out from the middle-income trap, Malaysia economy needs to change quickly to knowledge-intensive and innovation-led economy. This is impossible when we have a major scholarship policy that penalizes our top brains for getting involved in private sector and entreprenurial venture. Under such system, we may force a talented JPA scholar, who has just done a ground-breaking research that can be commercialized through highly potential start-up, to pay back its scholarship because he/she starts a business instead of working for the government! This is completely illogical. 

In order for Malaysia to be competitive in the international arena, we urgently need to manage our talents better. With that, we call upon Putrajaya to review its unjustifiable JPA scholarship policy to ensure that Malaysian talents are given the opportunities to reach their full potentials on this land in order to best serve our country.  

[1] http://esilav2.jpa.gov.my/esila_new/index.php
[2] http://talentcorpbucket.s3-website-ap-southeast-1.amazonaws.com/assets/productms/pdf/Brochure_STAR.pdf