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'Lifeline' For The Poor To Pursue Higher Education

Last update: 27/06/2012
By Melati Mohd Ariff

KUALA LUMPUR, June 27 (Bernama) -- Without a loan from the National Higher Education Fund Corporation (PTPTN), Zulkiple Ibrahim would not have been able to send his son to a local university for further education.

"Since I have many financial commitments, I can only pay for his daily subsistence. I need to seek funds from elsewhere for his higher education," the civil servant told Bernama here recently.

The loan from PTPTN enabled Zulkiple's son, Muhammad Zul Azrai, to pursue a degree in mechanical engineering at Universiti Teknoloji Petronas (UTP) in 2010.

According to Zulkiple, the PTPTN loan has helped him in a significant way to finance his son's studies at the university. Now he doesn't need to worry about paying the course fees.

"I do not like the idea of borrowing money, but to me, it is a necessity now. When a person borrows money, it is only fair for him or her to repay the loan since there is no such thing as a free loan.

"The interest is now only 1% where before it was 4%. Anyway, if the student gets good grades, the PTPTN will convert the loan into a scholarship," he said.

LIFELINE

Since its introduction some 15 years ago, the PTPTN has disbursed about RM43 billion to finance higher education in universities.

This year alone, 46,698 Sijil Pelajaran Malaysia (SPM) school leavers were offered places in 17 public tertiary education institutions and at three premier polytechnics.

Those who can afford the university course will have no problems, but what about students from under-privileged families?

The existence of the PTPTN is like a "saviour" or lifeline because, without the funds from this organisation, quite a number of students would be forced into a quandary or would have to decline the offer to study in the ivory tower.

Recently, the PTPTN announced that RM 49 million had been allocated for distribution as an advance payment to 32,777 students who had gained admission into universities nationwide for the academic session beginning May/June.

ABOLISH

However, there have been recent calls for the abolition of the PTPTN.

For Mohamad Azhar Hashim, who is a Fellow of the Economic and Social Studies Centre at the Malaysian Institute of Islamic Understanding (Ikim), this issue should be viewed from the perspective of the National Education Policy.

"We need to study Malaysia's education history and the government's efforts with the people's education. This happened with the New Economic Policy.

"At the time, many students were sent abroad to study and were locally sponsored by the government and other agencies such as Majlis Amanah Rakyat (Mara)," he told Bernama at an interview in Ikim here recently.

According to Mohamad Azhar, the government funded the education of some 5,000 students studying abroad every year from 1970 until the 1980s. During the 1980s, there were some 50,000 Malaysian students overseas.

"This was a policy that was foreign to other countries. The government resorted to this policy because our country did not have higher education facilities at the time.

"Our universities at the time were in a stage of growth and were not able to absorb the students. The policy at the time was to develop the country by using human capital, focusing on specific fields," he said.

POLICY CHANGE

The global economic downturn in 1983 had also affected Malaysia's economic cake since, at the time, the country depended on raw materials such as rubber and tin.

The economic situation at the time forced the government to review expenditures, he noted, adding that the government had given scholarships to students, but some of them had declined to work for the country after finishing their studies.

There were students who returned, but they were unable to find jobs because of the economic downturn, and the government had no choice but to release them from the bond they had signed earlier.

This also resulted in the government sending fewer students to study overseas; instead, loans were offered to students who wanted to pursue higher education.

"The loans can be converted into scholarships if the students achieve excellent academic results. The repayment is not burdensome, but there were students who returned and failed to check in with their lenders such as Mara or the Public Service Department (JPA)," he said.

SETTING UP OF PTPTN

He said the government had set up the PTPTN to dispel the notion that students from other communities are marginalised and are forced to borrow from financial institutions, which impose high interest rates.

Hence, the PTPTN was established as a one-stop centre to issue loans for higher education, he said.

The PTPTN does not only cater to the SPM and STPM (Sijil Tinggi Persekolahan Malaysia) school leavers but also to those who are working but wish to further their studies.

Another global economic downturn occurred in 1997, but the government continues to provide loans for further education.

The Ikim Fellow said the PTPTN education financing brings benefits to all, particularly the under-privileged, in the pursuit of higher education because the interest charged is a mere one per cent per annum compared with the banks that now charge around six per cent.

"In the early years, the PTPTN charged four per cent and that was already low since the banks charged 9-10 per cent per annum at the time for student loans," he said.

TAX PAYERS

Some parties have called on the government to provide free higher education similar to the practice in some Scandinavian nations and in Turkey.

"But the cost is inevitably passed on to the taxpayers who bear high taxes," he said.

He cited Norway as an example where the income tax is some 50 per cent compared with Malaysia where the figure is around 25 per cent.

"The government can do this (provide free higher education), but the burden will be on the taxpayers who will be saddled with higher taxes. But who will be burdened? Maybe the parents of the university students," he suggested.

Hence, the call for the PTPTN to be abolished needs to be examined closely since it is impossible to please everybody with any policy, he added.

QUALITY

Mohamad Azhar believes that free higher education will ultimately affect the quality of the education.

He bases this view on the administrative aspect of running a university, which bears high costs along with the need to become a producer of knowledge.

A lecturer not only teaches but also conducts research and attends conferences and seminars apart from tabling working papers.

"All of these incur costs, and who will pay for these? This is why there are study fees apart from receiving government grants and cooperating with foreign universities," he stated.

He noted that the course fees also enable the lecturers to provide their services to other universities.

"Each lecturer is paid RM300-RM400 an hour to teach part-time students. Not only does the lecturer share his knowledge, but he also proves the quality of the education," he said.

Mohamad Azhar said the lecturer's remuneration could also be affected if higher education becomes free, and this situation may force them to migrate to other countries.

"Malaysian lecturers have good reputations in other countries. If they migrate, the nation will suffer their loss.

"Hence, free higher education that lacks quality has no benefit to anyone," he emphasised.

MORAL

He noted it is human nature to lack appreciation for anything that is free, which is a sentiment that is synonymous among Malaysians.

"If higher education is free, then some of the students may lack commitment in their studies and may even reach a stage where they fail to complete their courses.

"It is a different scenario if they know that the money comes from their parents who are fishermen and rubber tappers earning money the hard way. This will push the students to study harder in order to get their degree and a new life for their family," he stated.

"The commitment will be the same if the student borrows money to pursue higher education," said Mohamad Azhar.

NOT READY

On Mohamad Azhar's view, Malaysians are not yet ready for higher education.

He noted that as the Malaysian economy improves, some students may not appreciate the hardships experienced by their predecessors to get the funds to study, which would lead them to fail to appreciate their education.

Mohamad Azhar called for the establishment of a "waqaf" fund for higher education.

("Waqaf" means a voluntary, permanent, irrevocable dedication of a portion of one's wealth in cash or kind to Allah. The fruits of the waqaf may be utilised for any syari'ah-compliant purpose.)

This fund is already in existence in Muslim countries such as Turkey and Egypt.

"We can use this fund for the students who want to pursue higher education," he stated.

He said the time has arrived for the authorities and ulama to discuss using Islamic instruments such as the waqaf for national development.

"The Islamic financial system is not only for Muslims but for non-Muslims as well," he added.

-- BERNAMA