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Monday, 16 May 2011

JPA Managing scholars is incompetent!

Lin Ern Sheong -JPA scholarship: A bond-free scholarship for young Malaysians

I am currently a 4th year student at the University of California, Berkeley. I am also a JPA scholar.  (JPA stands for Jabatan Perkhidmatan Awam, or the Public Service Department of Malaysia.)

While I am thankful for the JPA Scholarship, I could not fail to note the lackadaisical method which JPA employs to ensure that its scholars return home and serve the nation after graduation, especially those who are not in the fields of medicine and law.

Many JPA-sponsored students I know have not returned home upon graduation from overseas institutions.
The story would go like this. The JPA scholar reports to Putrajaya after graduation, and then tries to apply for jobs with the Government. If he does not hear back from JPA within 12 months, he is released from his 6-year bond with the Government. There is no need to pay back.

I suspect that many scholars do not even report home, but go on chasing their own dreams abroad immediately after graduation.

Indeed, many do not hear from the Government within 12 months. I have also heard of JPA scholars who genuinely wanted to serve the Government but could not, because JPA was unable to give them any postings.

For this very reason, the JPA Scholarship has become a much sought after scholarship. It is effectively a bond-free scholarship! This is a far cry compared to scholarships from other Malaysian corporations such as Petronas, Khazanah and Bank Negara, which are strict with its scholars when it comes to returning home after studying abroad.

It doesn’t make sense to spend hundreds of thousands of ringgit per scholar and then let them do whatever they want after graduation. I have been having a hard time explaining to those of other nationalities why my scholarship’s bond is pretty much nonexistent, despite the fact that so much money is spent by the Government.

Since the incorporation of TalentCorp, things might have changed, as there are now more job openings in the private sector for returning scholars. The question is, has anything really changed?

Hitherto, the JPA Scholarship has been an avenue for brain drain — right under the Government’s nose. If JPA does not have enough jobs for its scholars, they should at least enforce that scholars are to work within the country for 6 years, or else pay the Government back.

Otherwise, I would have to come to the logical conclusion that the JPA Scholarship was meant to encourage Malaysia’s brain drain.

Ideally, the JPA Scholarship should serve the purpose of harnessing Malaysia’s best talent for the public service of the nation.

* Lin Ern Sheong hails from Petaling Jaya and is proud be Malaysian, at home or abroad. He is currently studying Physics and Electrical Engineering in the United States.

* This is the personal opinion of the writer or publication.

Managing scholars

I REFER to Lin Ern Sheong’s letter above.

The topic of JPA scholars returning to Malaysia upon graduation has been a much discussed topic.
However, aside from establishing TalentCorp, it seems that no other concrete action has been taken to ensure that an appropriate action plan is executed to assist scholars with placements in industries.

Being a JPA scholar and currently working in one of the ministries, I have encountered numerous types of JPA scholars: those who returned and wanted to serve the Government as officers; those who returned and wanted to contribute their knowledge in a relevant field of study; those who did not want to serve their bonds; those who refused to return home on graduation; and those who wanted to serve the Government only if the jobs offered were related to their field of study, among others.

These JPA scholars clearly indicate that there must be a well-planned programme to cater for them upon graduation.

Every year, JPA scholarships are awarded to thousands of applicants and suffice to say, keeping track of each applicant is an arduous task.

But, regardless of this, it should not be a reason for our nonchalance in keeping track of the progress of each student, particularly those studying overseas.

With the introduction of the Government Transformation Programme and the reiteration on the importance of Return of Investment, it would only be appropriate if a specific programme, to ensure that these students are placed appropriately in the industry and their talent tapped, is initiated.

Although TalentCorp has been established, it is not an enforcing body (which in my opinion is JPA) and its aim spreads across a continuum of objectives such as trying to get researchers, scientists and professionals working overseas to return.

But there is a need to cater to the placement of scholars upon graduation. Even if they’re not working for the Government, at least ensure that they are working in Malaysia so that the knowledge gained overseas is of good use.

The initiative can even include a technology and knowledge transfer programme that allows these scholars to transfer the knowledge they gained overseas to local industries.

These are my personal opinions but I’m sure the enforcing body, that has been involved in sponsoring students locally and overseas, is more adept in proposing a thorough action plan.

I was a JPA scholar and I graduated as an engineer from one of the best universities in the United States and now, I am working as a diplomatic and administrative officer.

Many of my friends, who are in the same position as I, have either quit or are going to quit because they were not offered permanent positions as officers, and neither were they offered positions as research officers, science officers or engineers.

In short, the talents are not managed in a proper manner and it seems that whether these scholars return or not did not make any difference.

We, the scholars, are left to find our own ways and means to free ourselves from this contractual bondage so that we can expand our knowledge and industrial experience.

I, being one of them, am currently looking for opportunities to pursue my higher level degree overseas. This time, I might choose not to return.