Monday, June 9, 2008

JPA scholarships - an update

Saw this update on the Star. 161 Indian students received the JPA overseas scholarship, up from 120 last year, an increase of 34% which less than the 400% increase in the quota for non-Bumi students. (from 10% to 45%)

I found the 120 number a little strange. If the previous quota was 10% and only 2000 scholarships were given out, this means that non-Bumi students should have gotten only 200 scholarships. If 120 were given out to Indian students, then presumably only 80 were given out to Chinese students.

The reason I find this hard to believe is that my encounters with JPA students have always led me to conclude that there were more scholarships given to Chinese compared to Indian students. That there would be more scholarships given to Indian students doesn't make sense from an observation standpoint nor does it make sense from a political standpoint. MCA's lobbying power is presumably greater than that of MIC's and as such, it doesn't make sense that there would be more Indian JPA scholars than Chinese JPA scholars.

Please note that I am not making any claims as to who 'deserves' these scholarships more. I'm just trying to look at the figures from a rational standpoint and they don't make sense.

One possibility is that the MIC Minister, S Subramaniam, got his figures for the previous year wrong. Another is that JPA was already awarding more than 10% of the JPA scholarships to non-Bumis. I'm not sure which possibility is more likely.

But if the JPA policy change was implemented this year, then this must mean that most of the balance of the 900 scholarships should have been allocated to Chinese students which is approximately 740 scholarships (taking away the 160 allocated to the Indians). This means that Chinese students are probably the biggest beneficiary of this policy change. If we assume that there were about 150 scholarships allocated to Chinese students before this policy change, this would represent close to a five fold increase!

Remember what I said in this earlier post about some people ignoring the intra ethnic distributional consequences of the JPA scholarship such as the fact that most Malay recipients would be from middle class families? I think that we may also ignore the intra non-Bumi distributional consequences.

It is no surprise to me that the freeing up of this quota system would benefit the Chinese more than the Indians. Not only are there more Chinese in this country, a larger proportion of Chinese are in the middle class, which following the above logic, would be in prime position to capture gains from policy liberalization. Again, this is not an argument for the superiority of one race over another. It's making conclusions based on sound logic.

This story also tells me that we need to be clear about what the JPA scholarships hope to achieve. Is it just to award the top scholars who disproportionately come from the middle classes? Or is it to give a leg up to scholars from the lower classes? There is a trade off between these two objectives. Of course, they can be straddled someone - such as having a proportion of the scholarships means tested - but this trade off will continue to exist.

I'm not jumping up and down just because more Chinese and Indians will receive the JPA overseas scholarship. My thoughts on this topic is well documented in this blog. Most of these scholars won't come back to Malaysia and even if they do, won't serve the government in any way, shape or form. It's still money wasted, in my opinion but since JPA scholarships are not going to go away or be revamped anytime soon, I need to keep writing about it.

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