Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Meritocracy - There is no better time for it than now!

PUTRAJAYA, May 18 — Only 20 percent, or one in five, of Public Service Department (PSD) scholarships are given based on merit while the rest are allocated based on racial quotas. [The Malaysian Insider]

Meritocracy - A system of a government or other organization wherein appointments are made and responsibilities are given based on demonstrated talent and ability. Nonetheless, meritocracy is a philosophy not clearly defined here in this country, given the many aspects of government dealings that do not seem to adhere to it. One notable government policy to go under that notion is the racially-biased New Economic Plan (NEP). Though noble at first, many Malaysians are now beginning to question its use or rather the ethical purpose after 30 years of its implementation.

It is revealed that only 20% of government scholarships by the Public Service Department (PSD) are given based on merit. The remaining 60% are given out based on the population ratio of respective races while East Malaysian bumiputras and underprivileged students are allocated 10% each.

Minister in the Prime Minister's Department, Datuk Seri Nazri Aziz had last year told the Parliament that the PSD follows the 55:45 ratio when giving out scholarships i.e. 55% for bumiputra students and 45% for the other ethnic groups.

In an attempt to defend the shocking finding, Tan Sri Ismail Adam, the PSD director-general said it was unfair to direct the blame at his department over allegations that top students were being overlooked as there are too many students applying for limited number of government scholarships.

“Over 8,000 students are qualified to be considered for 2,000 scholarships. Please be fair to me. Perception without having an understanding and perspective of the issue can bring about conclusions that may not be right or fair. I understand the unfortunate ones can be emotional. But please be fair in your comments, " he said in his email to the Malaysian Insider in response DAP's Lim Kit Siang who brought this matter to public attention recently. [16/5/09, The Malaysian Insider]
"Overwhelming demand" is certainly not exactly the best excuse when 80% of the scholarships are given out based on skin colour. That means only 20% are allocated for students who have truly earned a scholarship through good grades. Is academic excellence not the top priority when granting such scholarships to students? The public has the right to know if it is not.

Also, how far would the 20% have gone to help underprivileged students whose families cannot afford the luxury to send their children to universities or colleges? What is achieved when students who have mediocre academic grades or who are from wealthy families are given scholarships to study abroad at the expense of those who are more deserving?

Nonetheless, it is encouraging news that the Cabinet has decided to look into this matter. More than 800 straight-A students who failed to attain a scholarship will have their appeals taken up to the Cabinet for discussion, according to a news report by the The Star.

Deputy Education Minister Datuk Dr Wee Ka Siong cited a case of a student with 6A1 and 4A2 who obtained a scholarship to study engineering but students with 13A1s and 14A1s that they were given places to do matriculation instead of being awar­ded with scholarships. Such incidents are not uncommon with hundreds of thousands of students graduating high school every year. The question is: How long shall the shenanigans continue before meritocracy is restored?

The PSD has to be transparent in their process of short-listing eligible students and awarding scholarships. The lack of public accountability can only serve to fuel continued public suspicion and unhappiness over the matter. It was suggested some years ago that the PSD should publish the names of scholarship recipients but unfortunately, it fell on deaf ears. Being transparent is the only way the PSD could be free from such criticism if it is too much for Tan Sri Ismail Adam to handle. But then again, shouldn't all public agencies be transparent to begin with?

Above all, I believe government aids like scholarships in Malaysia should one day cease to be governed by race or skin colour. Instead, students who are underprivileged or those who have done their extremely well in their studies should be given the priority in receiving scholarships.

Society can only thrive under meritocracy where people are awarded based on their qualifications and talents. And in Malaysia, there is no better time for meritocracy than now.


  1. vasantarao appalasamy said...

    It’s important to ensure every Malaysian citizen regardless of races get equal chances to further their studies in critical courses. I hope goverment will be more open minded in higher education field in future, not only in PSD scholarships but also public universities intake.