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Choice in Higher Education

The government needs to stop micromanaging our scholars and let individuals decide what's best for them.

Written by johnleemk on 12:23:07 pm Jun 8, 2007.

One of the most ridiculous things I have seen in Malaysian education is how the central government's bureaucracy incessantly imposes itself on students.

Many Malaysians, Bumiputra or non-Bumiputra, cannot afford to further their own education. As a result, they are forced to fall back on government aid and accept public scholarships.

The public of course demands that its money be spent wisely. Malaysian scholars attending university on Malaysian money should be held accountable to ensure the Malaysian public gets a good return on its investment.

But rather than properly enforcing the repayment of student loans, guess what the Malaysian higher education bureaucracy is trying to pull off — controlling how students pick universities.

Frustrating stories abound of how bright Malaysian students have been unable to change universities or apply to certain universities because the government thinks they are better off elsewhere.

I personally know one student who was admitted to a top university in the United States, but was initially forced by the Jabatan Perkhidmatan Awam (JPA; also known as the Public Services Department or PSD) to attend a slightly inferior institution because the Malaysian government wanted him to study a subject the former university did not offer.

In the first place, why is it any business of the government's what I want to study or where I want to study? If I have proven myself to be sufficiently mature and intelligent to be funded with public money, why is my decision any business of yours?

As long as I study in an accredited institution, there is no reason for you to be concerned with what or where I am studying. Your only concern should be that I pay my loans (if applicable) and fulfil my bond (if any).

I truly thought central planning had died with the fall of the Berlin Wall, but it seems to be well and alive in Malaysia today, with the government allocating subjects and universities to students.

(I was told that JPA even allows students to apply only to certain universities — completely ridiculous!)

Students looking out for their own self-interest will study what benefits them the most — and when our individuals benefit, our society benefits. Society is nothing more than an aggregate of individuals.

As long as these individuals return to serve their community and thus rejoin their society, why should it be any business of the government's where they are studying? Is the government going to start making sure they are observing proper morals next?

Let's have faith in the choice of individuals to do the right thing for themselves in their education. When they become the best individual they can be, they become the best person they can be to serve society — and that is the whole point of subsidising education in the first place.