EVERY year, the Public Service Department (PSD) sponsors about 2,000 overseas scholars and thousands of local scholars.
These scholarship holders are contract-bound to serve in the civil service for three to five years after graduation. It is considered fair and right that they serve the public after having used public funds. Now, let's do a little thinking out of the box. What if scholarships are given out solely as reward for scholastic achievements and not as binding contracts? Or, what if scholars are not bound but are free to choose the civil service? Before we cry "foul", let's examine the practice now. A PSD scholar normally has 10 or more 1As in his SPM. Having secured the scholarship, he will be put through a 11/2 to two-year A-level, matriculation or foundation course before going on to a local or foreign university. It will be another three to four years before he graduates. So, it is five or six years after that scholarship interview that a PSD scholar comes knocking at the PSD door again. This time, it is for an "interview" for a job.
Six years is not a short period. A person may change, more so when he is away from home and exposed to a different environment and culture. What about his scholastic performance in the university? Has his attitude and demeanour changed? Is he the same person the PSD selected and sent off earlier for further studies? Now, since he is under contract, the so-called interview is an eyewash. He thus begins his career in government service. If he is an average performer, chances are that he will stay on after the contractual period. So, our scholar will plod on, doing all duties required of him, may even gain one or two time-based promotions before he retires in his golden years. And the PSD has to continue to support him, paying him his pension until his or his spouse's last days. Now, what about the true top scholars who continue to excel in universities? Doesn't the government deserve their services? Yes. But, it may be just for the short contractual period before they leave for greener pastures. The first three to five years in any service is more of a preparatory phase. It cannot be likened to the valued-contribution phase which comes later in the career path. So, it is an exaggeration to say that a young graduate has contributed or made a difference to the civil service by serving his contractual time. For a truly valued contribution that makes a difference, the PSD has to devise schemes that would attract professionals in mid-career, giving preference to ex-PSD scholarship holders in the process. But what damage can be done to the career path of true top scholars if they are contracted to serve? They may on graduation be offered a chance to do postgraduate research by universities overseas. These universities may be where the Nobel laureates are working. If Malaysia ever hopes to produce its own Nobel Prize winners, our scholars have to attach themselves to where it counts. I know of PSD scholars who do subjects like Pure Physics and Theoretical Economics at Cambridge and Oxford University. They can better focus on achieving academic excellence and single-mindedly aim for postgraduate attachments if they are relieved of the pressure of having to come home to serve upon graduation. Even if they remain overseas and become entrepreneurs in their professions, why can't we wish them well and success? Let them succeed and eventually establish corporations that are of international repute. When their firms seek workers, they will remember their Malaysian roots and chances are they will recruit Malaysians first. Isn't this one way to spread our Malaysian wings and brands? Other nationals are successful and have established global businesses and world-class professional entities. It is time we Malaysians did the same. We need well disciplined, qualified, globally-connected professionals and entrepreneurs to achieve this. Bring these achievers home at the start of their careers and we are making them into jaguh kampung. The other negative impact of PSD contracts is that they edge out other applicants for the civil service. They are those who do not score that many As in their Sijil Pelajaran Ma-laysia examination but nevertheless enrol in a university, perform well and have good attitude. They are not enlisted because the vacancies left are few. The thousands of PSD contract scholars are given precedence in recruitment.They not only enjoy their scholarships, but they are also guaranteed life-long employment just because they had scored 10 or more 1As in their SPM years ago. In conclusion, PSD undergraduate scholarships should be given as rewards, not as contracts. A contract binds a scholar to serve; it also binds the government to employ. There should be no automatic appointments. Let our true scholars be free to roam the world to find their own bearings. They will have their chance to contribute to the nation and make a difference when they acquire maturity in their careers. Clipping their wings early will not be fair or right.