On the Beat | By Wong Chun Wai

Jostling with the poor for scholarships

Until a few years back, there was no such thing as
education insurance, where early planning could be made.

For most parents, the rejection of a university application means having to set
aside a huge sum of money for their children to pursue a degree through
twinning programmes at local colleges.

They understand and accept the fact that there are only so many places in local

Wealthier parents have the option of sending their children overseas. For
wage-earners, an overseas education for their children is a last choice because
it means using their savings and, in many cases, mortgaging their homes.

Many of us who went through secondary and tertiary education remember filling
up endless applications for scholarship which we knew we had little hopes of

We accepted the fact that scholarships should go to those with a string of
distinctions or those with an unfortunate background.

The children of a fisherman in a backward village may have an average
scholastic achievement but if given the right opportunity and facilities could
perform brilliantly.

Similarly, the child of a factory worker who earns less than RM1,000 a month
deserves a shot at getting a scholarship.

The rules of the game must be clear. There must also be a level playing

In this context, Malaysians are unlikely to accept the statement by Deputy
Minister in the Prime Minister's Department Datuk Nazri Abdul Aziz in the Dewan
Rakyat last week.

He had said that students from middle and high-income families were also
considered when scholarships were given out by the Public Services

"Just because someone is a child of a minister or deputy minister, we
can't say he shouldn't get a scholarship."

Nazri went on to say that "we cannot penalise a student just because his
father is an MP or minister."

The furore began following a debate on allocations under the Supplementary
Supply Bill for RM30mil meant as additional scholarship for Malaysian students

Barisan Backbenchers Club president Ruhanie Ahmad, who took part in the debate,
had unwittingly admitted that his child received a scholarship.

He had complained that his child, a PSD-sponsored student undergoing a
matriculation course, was among those affected by the decision to stop sending
students abroad.

Except for a handful of (full-time) MPs, most are professionals and businessmen
who do not depend on their allowances for a living. Their allowances mainly
goes to paying off the rentals of their constituency service centres and
administrative help.

A large chunk also goes to donations and even contributions to weddings of

Some MPs had to resign from the civil service to join politics. Because they
were formerly top-grade officers, they now find themselves in a less
financially-secure position.

Unless they get appointed as directors to a few companies, their MP allowance
is unlikely to be sufficient.

But ministers and their deputies are in a different category. They enjoy better
perks and get allowances for a range of needs, from housing to domestic

Certainly their allowances, if added up, would be more than the average wage of
a Malaysian.

Politics, as Nazri or Ruhanie is well aware, is all about perception. When the
child of an MP gets a scholarship, the public will conclude that the MP had
used his clout to secure the scholarship, even if he did not.

A large section of our society would also cynically dismiss claims by
politicians that their sole desire to enter politics is to serve society.

When Malaysians read about the rampant practice of money politics, they are
less willing to accept statements by our politicians on face value.

It will be difficult for a child to convince his college peers that his Datuk
father – a minister, a deputy or MP, with his BMW and posh house – needs a

If a well-heeled politician says he cannot afford to pay for his child's
education, then he should reflect on the position of a struggling

It will be more honourable for the elite who are politically well-connected to
opt for study loans, rather than scholarships, for their children.

For those of us who graduated because of our "Fa-Ma" scholarships,
there was one thing we learnt: respect for our hard-working parents.

And respect, as we all know, needs to be earned and not demanded