JPA Scholarships: A Billion Ringgit Throwaway?

Application for JPA Scholarships will be available again starting 9 April. The Government has mentioned sponsoring only students upon acceptance into top universities and Hafidzi feels it’s an important consideration. He wonders, however, when this will actually take effect as he analyzes the need for such a provision to be implemented as soon as possible.

A total of 559 candidates obtained high distinctions and 10,803 scored straight A’s in the subjects they sat for in the Sijil Pelajaran Malaysia (SPM) examination in 2011, according to the Education Ministry director-general Datuk Seri Abdul Ghafar Mahmud.

Statistics on SPM results have never been disappointing; in fact, they may be the only ones showing positive signs in a disappointing national arena, be it in politics, economics or social issues. The reality is, more students are getting straight A’s year after year. Perhaps the staggering number of exceptional students may explain why Muhyiddin suddenly theorized that our education system is better than that of the US and UK.

Ah, how wonderful to see parents rejoicing over their children’s results:

Of course I am, my son has never scored A’s in Additional Mathematics, Physics, and Chemisty; in fact, praise the Lord that he scored straight A’s!

What a happy ending. In fact, I’ll bet everyone is expecting our tale of educational excellence to continue. But hold on, our beloved Prime Minister has just reversed his policy of giving JPA scholarships; now, they’re available to students with 8A’s and above, not 9A’s. How magnanimous! How confident!

Malaysians, for the sake of our country, wake up please!

Isn’t it alarming that our education statistics have been reflecting a rapid rise in A’s being scored and nothing else for the past 10 years? In the past, there seemed to be more recognition for high-scorers than today. However, a trend of skepticism appears to be emerging among scholarship interviewers and employers who’re beginning to question the credibility of these exceptional students.


A for excellence? | Photo: Zulkifli Ersal | Source:

What exactly does this rise in numbers mean? Are our students getting smarter, thanks to their dedicated teachers? Their own undivided attention in class? Or are the students simply more prepared due to the many generic practice questions available in bookstores and at tuition centers? Is there also the possibility that the grading system has become more lenient compared to years ago?

These are issues that must be taken into account especially in gauging excellence. Sure, these students do work hard. And it’s only advantageous for us to reward them with scholarships to ensure a continuity in their success since they’re the human capital for a modern Malaysia. There’s no denying that. But the issue here involves billions in outflow of public money. Therefore it’s also fair to evaluate if every SPM high scorer should be rewarded solely on the basis of SPM results.

Let’s take the year 2007 for example. A year where 1800 students were sent overseas to complete their tertiary education. Averaging RM500,000 per person, we’re looking at investments of almost RM900 million for that batch alone. If the trend continues in 2012, aren’t we then looking at a whooping sum of RM3.5 billion so far? The public has the right to demand for a justification of such an expenditure. Most especially when the majority of these students are not even enrolled in the world’s Top 20 universities.

Throughout the years, there have been cases of JPA scholars (the so-called SPM high-scorers) flunking their preparatory examinations – i.e A-Levels, Canadian Pre-U, South Australian Matriculation. This is a strong indication of the JPA scholarship policy being ineffective in determining excellence, that SPM achievements do not necessarily measure up to world-standard educational requirements.

Isn’t it also contradictory of the policy that our best students aren’t exceptional enough to be the best among the best? In fact, privately-funded students comparatively have a better admission rate to Ivy-league schools  like Cambridge for example. So look who’s having the last laugh now.

Moreover, in the UK and US, there are universities with large Malaysian admissions on an annual basis where our scholars mingle only among themselves. Don’t be surprised therefore to meet Malaysian graduates from such tertiary institutions who can’t even speak proper English! Does this mean that JPA’s mentality is such that as long as these average academic performers find places in these accepting universities, they’re all good? That their agenda is simply to get them abroad? How many of the ‘international schools’ in the charts below will accept out JPA scholars?

Can our top scorers compete in the top 20 universities worldwide? How do our own universities compare?

Not so long ago, the Government initiated a new policy for JPA scholarships to be awarded only to exceptional students upon acceptance to top universities. Years have passed since the announcement, and the time is ripe to redefine the definition of ‘top university’. Singapore, for instance, will only sponsor the crème de la crème to top institutions while the rest are retained locally.

Possible changes in the policy:

  • Reserving scholarship spots for top scorers at university-entry level
  • Small bursaries for SPM-level students for pre-university courses
  • The pre-university courses would include STPM, matriculation and A-levels

Other issues mooted:

  • Due to O-level results being a poor indicator of A-level performance, it is not an excellent idea to award the scholarships to SPM level students
  • Key to the policy change is to award scholarships to students with very good results and a place at top universities
  • Process of awarding the scholarships must also be ‘fair and balanced’ in order to make sure that all communities in Malaysia reap benefits

(Source: JPA)

JPA’s over-emphasis on overseas education is among the factors that are causing our local institutions to plummet in rankings due to the lack of quality human capital. Lackluster academic performance is what’s making the atmosphere less competitive, as is the lack of initiatives to aim for a higher standard. Look no further than the bane of many of our scholars – the basic grasp of the English Language (or the lack of);  to expect continuous independent research and development progress therefore is unrealistic. How saddening, though, that the trickle-down effects are bastardizing our own efforts to improve local institutions.

Whatever can positively happen to initiatives to revive the glory days of University Malaya, when the Government itself allows an exodus of our brightest, while less undeserving ones grapple for locally available spots?

Whoever rules the Government in future, it’s imperative that JPA’s overseas scholarship policy be revised. Straight A’s in SPM alone don’t equate to the excellence deserving of golden (yes, it’s that expensive) opportunities abroad. Overseas institutions too, aren’t necessarily exceptional just because they’re located in the US or UK where hallowed institutions like Stanford, Harvard, and Oxford are found. More importantly, a more refined approach will ensure meritocracy at its best, while improving the standard of our local institutions with billions saved as well as a better pool of students to choose from.

(Source of charts in this article:; featured image accompanying article on main page courtesy of Mahani Mohamad, source:

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , ,

He probably suits best as the baby monkey of Loyarburok; being a 19-year old first-year Law student (like, who else can beat that!). He set up ‘The Malaysian Outsider’ ( for youth empowerment & to increase awareness among Malaysian youth. His daily concerns are shared on Twitter @hafidzirazali

Posted on 7 April 2012. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0.

Read more articles posted by .

Read this first: LB Terms of Use

20 Responses to JPA Scholarships: A Billion Ringgit Throwaway?