Scholar a scholar, when are you coming home?

Here’s an interesting question: When the government sponsor a student to go study in a foreign nation, for example, “scholars” from Malaysia or Singapore being sponsored by JPA and PSC respectively, should they be allowed to stay on after their studies to work for, say, a period of 1 to 5 years, before returning to their homeland to contribute back to the taxpayers / corporation who have initially sponsored their education? Recently there was a circular amongst the Malaysian students studying in US (reproduced here – don’t quote me!! I’m no gahmen, but link can :)) about a standardization of this “grace period” to reduce confusion. If you can read Malay, here’s the fax (7 pages, open in new window):

garis-panduan-001.gif garis-panduan-002.gif garis-panduan-003.gif garis-panduan-004.gif garis-panduan-005.gif garis-panduan-006.gif garis-panduan-007.gif
Here are some key points for non-Malay readers (with my opinion in brackets):

  1. The idea is to standardize across all sponsoring agency
  2. Rational to postpone return for the purpose of raising competitiveness in skill set in target job market, give chance for students to obtain extra knowledge, experience and expertise before returning (they miss out the “money” portion as always)
  3. Two category of students, a. those who need to serve bond, b. those who need to pay back (like a loan) whole or portion.
  4. Policy:
    1. For medic, dental, farma
      1. Must return for houseman-ship
      2. Postpone conditions: a. specialize b. waiting for spouse to complete studies
    2. For others
      1. Postpone conditions: a. study higher level b. work in related and approved field by sponsor, c. waiting for spouse to complete studies
  5. How long?
    1. Duration of studies e.g. masters / PhD (this means in US it can be 6 years), or
    2. For working experience, 2 to 4 years, extended year by year on approval (wahlau 4 years!!!), or
    3. Spouse’s study duration (err.. so if my spouse is extending for PhD, I can stay to work for 6 years? wow…), or
  6. Conditions
    1. Must be related (Of Course it is related!! There’s always a way to make it related…)
    2. No disruption to the government manpower planning
    3. Case by case, gahmen can cancel anytime,
    4. Must be ready to leave anytime when instructed
    5. It’s a “deferment”, i.e. if you bond 6 years, still bond 6 years, just start counting later
    6. For pay back crowd, 4 years to pay back max, starting no later than 6 months after you start working

The rest are not important, e.g. “Berkhidmat Untuk Negara!!” I see this as a very positive statement in trying to not micromanage but set standards. That should be the way for gahmen, not make individual lives miserable.

Seems like this is a bit more lenient than the SG version. PSC has a gap year programme that has very similar aims. To quote their website:

The Gap Year is a special programme under the Management Associates Programme that allows our Management Associate to spend 6 months to 1 year working in a private or public sector organisation, either overseas or locally. This takes place upon graduation and before you start work in the civil service. The aim is to give you the chance to gain first-hand experience to understand what makes private enterprises tick, what their concerns are, and the nature of their corporate ethos. We recognise that the takeaways from the Gap Year will not only benefit you but also the public service. Part of the Gap Year can also be counted towards your bond.

So you see, there is a very heavy handed tone here: We want only you to know “what makes enterprises tick, their concerns and nature”, nothing else. So whether this is apple to apple comparison is debatable.

I personally benefited from my parent company‘s gracious effort in allowing me to spend a year in before coming back. If you ask me know I would give you a definite YES in the kind of “jumpstart” it gave to my career (well maybe because I actually looked for the challenge) but naturally, one year is just too short for anyone to appreciate what is happening in a company. I could leave having a rather good understanding mainly because I’ve done 2 internships before that at the same place (imagine being reemployed 3 times over 3 years). So this 2 to 4 year policy definitely get my thumbs up.

Finally, a parting note on how “justifiable” these schemes are. I want to bring back a long ago discussion on what a scholarship mean. In the past, a scholarship is a reward, not a business contract. Unfortunately, due to the need to be competitive, students are willing to go into this contract with their sponsoring organization in exchange for a windfall. This means a lot more students are getting a “scholarship” when they shouldn’t be, and in turn they became vehicles to sponsoring organization, either as a really good investment (hey – 15% compounded annual interest? heard of that?) or as a labour risk mitigator in case all the “talents” are “sucked” away into the branded companies overseas. When one argues like that, the original connotation of scholarship is thus lost.

So, tell me, if you’re the gahmen, should you allow the scholar to defer servicing his or her bond?

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