Monday, May 19, 2008

JPA Scholarships - Interview with Tan Sri Ismail Adam

Thanks to my blog reader for submitting this.

This is an article that helps clear everyone's mind on JPA Scholarships, from the Director General, Tan Sri Ismail Adam himself.

This is quoted from NST

Brilliant school-leavers: there's good news and there's bad news. The bad news is, 9 A1s may not be enough to get you a Public Service Department scholarship to study overseas. The competition is stiff and the application is over-subscribed by over 700 per cent. The good news is, you can still apply for a scholarship to study locally, and it's quite easy to get. ANIZA DAMIS speaks to Public Service director-general Tan Sri Ismail Adam.

Q: Can you explain the PSD scholarship offer to all students who get 9As?

A: Sometimes, the press provides a certain perspective that can be misunderstood by honest people, like on May 2 when the chief secretary issued a statement which says, among others, that students who got 9As in the 2007 Sijil Pelajaran Malaysia exam will be offered scholarships, from Form Six until the first degree, locally.

Q: Locally?

A: That was the statement.

The PSD offers two kinds of scholarships. One is for the overseas degree programme and the other is for the local degree programme.

On May 11, we published on our website the results of people who have succeeded in getting the overseas scholarship.

The overseas programme is very competitive. The criteria is 70 points for academic excellence, 10 points for interview, 10 points for family economic background and 10 points for co-curricular activities.

But after the announcement, you see in another English daily a lot of people complaining the government promised that those with 9As can get scholarship. Nine 9As is for local studies. Not foreign.

For the foreign degree programme, you may get 11 A1s. This means you get 70 marks for academic excellence. But you may lose out in the other 30 points.

You may lose out if your father earns RM50,000 a month — you’ll probably get two points out of 10.

If you get 11 A1s and your father is earning RM3,000 a month and you want to do engineering or medicine, probably you’ll get it.

So, academic excellence alone does not guarantee a scholarship.

That newspaper said students with 12 A1s and 11 A1s are not getting the scholarship. But that 11 A1s only qualifies you for 70 per cent (of the evaluation score).

Q: Just how competitive is it?

A: For the overseas degree programme, we have 2,000 places.

Q: And how many applicants did you get for the 2,000 scholarships?

A: More than 15,000. And of this, half — 7,500 — made the cut.

Q: How did you filter them?

A: If you want to do medicine, you must have at least A2 for biology. If you get B3, you’re out. You should refer to our website for some details. That’s how they get screened out.

The 7,500 who are fighting for the 2,000 places get full marks for academic excellence.

For co-curricular activities, if you are just a member (of a society), it’s not enough. Other students represent the country, so surely they will get 10 points. Being a school prefect may get you five points.

And then, the interview. Sometimes, an academically good student may not perform well in an interview. We ask questions to assess their level of general knowledge. Let’s say, “What is your opinion of the development of sports in Malaysia?” If you don’t read the newspaper, you won’t know that our football team is number 140-whatever in the world ranking.

They will get two or three students to discuss the issues (in front of the interviewers) and we will observe. We are going to spend a lot of money on these students. So, they are our investment.

If we don’t get good students (it will be a waste). Even then, out of the 2,000, there will be some failures; as with any other investment.

Q: How do we get these students to come back after they’ve completed their studies?

A: We have a contract and (if they don’t come back) they have to pay.

Before 2003, if you broke your bond, you or your guarantor had to pay. The amount was less than what was spent on you. But now, the penalty is the actual cost (of what was spent on the student).

So, before this, if you were doing medicine, you had to pay RM160,000, which is less than a year’s scholarship. We spend RM1.2 million for each medical student.

But over 90 per cent of our students come back. The ones who don’t come back are mostly medical students. If they don’t come back, we get their guarantors.

Q: How many students have applied for local scholarships?

A: We will only open the applications in June. For local studies, we don’t have much of a problem. We offer 10,000 scholarships. And it’s not that popular. This is a trend we have noticed.

Local education is highly subsidised, unless you do medicine.

If you do economics or law, it’s not that expensive. But if you take a government scholarship, you’ve got to serve the government for five years.

So, some of these students get their fathers to pay. Then they don’t have to serve the government. That’s why it’s easier to get (the scholarship) because it’s not so competitive.

The requirement for a local scholarship is 80 points for academic excellence and 20 points for parents’ economic background. That’s all. And you must have secured a place in a local university.

It must be a critical subject. We don’t give scholarships for every subject. It’s medicine, engineering, dentistry, economics, law, psychology and so on.

Q: What about the case of K. Kamine Devi from Sitiawan, who had 10 A1s and who had applied for a scholarship to study medicine overseas, and didn’t get a scholarship? And she did not get a place for matriculation in a local university. So, what does a person have to do to get a PSD scholarship?

A: There are also others besides PSD. There’s Tenaga Nasional Bhd, Mara, Petronas and other companies that a student can apply to.

The foreign degree programme has 2,000 places, as mentioned earlier. This is for critical areas like medicine, dentistry, pharmacy, engineering, biotechnology and selective social sciences. And the criteria is 70,10,10,10.

Then we have local scholarships. Beginning this year, those who have 9As and are in Form Six or matriculation are eligible for sponsorship right through their first degree. If they don’t get into university, that’s it. It ends at Form Six or matriculation.

There is another avenue, but it is a longer road. From this year, any Malaysian who gets into an Ivy League university (in the United States) or Oxford and Cambridge (in Britain) or the Group of Eight in Australia, will be sponsored by the government, but again, in specified fields of study.

If you didn’t do well in SPM, you still have a chance. Do A-Levels and work your butt off and get into Harvard, and a scholarship will be waiting for you.

There’s another package. If you get into a local foreign university (a foreign university that has a Malaysian campus) — Nottingham, Monash, Curtin and Swinburne — you are also eligible for a PSD scholarship.

So, there are a lot of avenues.

Of course, the “jewel” is the foreign degree programme.

I was told by the Education Ministry that 6,262 students scored straight As last year. The competition is great.

A mother emailed me that the son did well but didn’t get a PSD scholarship. So I called her. I found out that her son is a pure science student but wants to do accountancy. He didn’t do accounting in Form Five.

I told her to check with her son whether he would consider doing engineering. But he refused. So, since he is doing his A-Levels, I told him to do it very well and go to an Ivy League university, and we will sponsor him. So, that is what he is targeting now.

The alternatives are there, as never before.

Q: What about post-graduate studies? The PSD only offers scholarships for post-graduate studies to graduates who are first degree PSD scholars.

A: I know. Somebody complained. We have an excellence programme for PSD scholars who do well (first-class) in areas that the government requires.

But we also have the Agong’s Scholarship for a dozen people.

This is for the crème de la crème. We get special people to do the selecting. It’s for Malaysians studying locally or abroad.

First-class is the basic requirement. They can go anywhere in the world. They get double the allowance.

One day, a deputy minister called me: “Please help me. My daughter applied for the Agong’s Scholarship. She’s first-class.”

I said: “YB, everybody (applying) is first-class.”

If they are successful, they get a letter from the king. They have an audience with the king. If you look at them, you know they are brilliant. Not everybody can talk to the king without stammering.

The selection process is very tough. And when they come back, they don’t have to work for the government. But they have to work for the country.

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