JPA scholarship: A riposte?

By Yizhen Fung

I read with interest a succinct analysis on the JPA scholarship written by Lin Ern Sheong published in The Malaysian Insider on May 15. His opinion of the disappointing way JPA scholars are managed is one that has traditionally been shared by members of the general public — there is a sorry lack of adequate jobs for returning scholars, poor enforcement of the working bond arrangement, and the fact that the scholarship inevitably contributes to brain drain.

I cannot help but wonder, however, if such sentiments are still relevant in light of recent developments.

There is, firstly, a general feeling of scepticism with regards to the role Talent Corp is meant to play in scholar management. There are many who believe that no difference has, and will, be made.

It is true that it may be far too early to tell if Talent Corp is going to make a significant change in the way things work around here, but given the fact that it is still a relatively young organisation (having just established itself this year) and that there would naturally be teething issues to deal with, it is equally plausible that we may be judging too harshly, too soon.

To a certain extent, I cannot quite blame people for having their doubts — where government policies are concerned, Malaysians in general are a sceptical bunch, and would rather see some results before believing. The mantra “seeing is believing” is a completely acceptable one, but surely withholding judgment for now would not be too much to ask for.

Reading Ern Sheong’s article, it appears to me that the scholars in the United States might have yet to hear from Talent Corp, which may rightly explain the author’s question of whether things have really changed.

But I do know for a fact that Talent Corp officers have been in close correspondence with the scholars in the UK — these plans of enforcing the bond are no longer just plans, they are now being put into motion. I cannot vouch for Talent Corp and what it is planning to do in the near future, but perhaps given a little more time, it will move on to scholars in other countries, the United States included. The point is things have already started to move, and progress is looking encouraging.

Ern Sheong’s suggestion of broadening the scope of placements for scholars to include jobs outside the government sector is a very good one. If JPA cannot provide a job that will make adequate use of the skills a particular scholar has by virtue of his field of training, it should allow the bond to be served by working in other companies — the key is to ensure that the scholars remain in Malaysia, even if they are not actively working for the government.

Needless to say, this is clearly a win-win situation. The government has no use for some of these scholars, but it is in its best interest to ensure that the scholars remain in the country. The scholars, on the other hand, will enjoy wider freedom in the sort of jobs they can do, and not end up stranded working the much-dreaded administrative jobs.

This is exactly what Talent Corp is trying to do — it has been actively working together with the scholars [at least in the UK] and encouraging them to obtain placements in government-linked companies, where their skills and talents can be better harnessed. Whether this will be extended to include companies in the private sector remains to be seen, but I argue that this will be a big step in the right direction, if taken.

All in all, from what has been happening so far, we are certainly pushing the right buttons in changing the way we manage our scholars. It is not much at the moment, but it is definitely a fine start.

Yes, it is true that Malaysia has a long way to go in tackling the brain-drain issue, but hey, hitting what seems to be rock bottom on the progress scale means that there is only one direction we could possibly head — upwards. The pragmatic mantra of “seeing is believing” clearly still applies, but what I have seen so far seems to be encouraging enough for me to believe in the direction we are heading.

Yizhen is a final-year law student at the University of Oxford. She writes for the CEKU column in The Malaysian Insider. This article was published in The Malaysian Insider on 17th May 2011.

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