Response to Rosmah seeking to increase budget for Permata

I refer to the recent comments made by the wife of the Prime Minister Rosmah Mansor regarding the Permata programme.

According to reports, Rosmah mentioned that she is looking to increase the budget for Permata and will ask from the Finance Minister, who is her husband.

Permata is fundamentally an education programme, and as such, any education policy should be part of comprehensive Education Ministry initiative.

It is puzzling that Permata is stationed under the Prime Ministers Department when it clearly should be under Education Ministry. What is even more questionable is the fact that no Minister is handling the programme that has a budget of RM85 million, but rather it is helmed by the wife of the Prime Minister who does not have an executive role in the government.

Furthermore, it is absurd for Rosmah to publicly mention that she will speak to her husband about increasing Permata’s budget, whilst neglecting to mention that Permata actually had an increase in budget in 2017 whilst the education budget, especially higher education, has been cut.

If she truly cares for education, allow Permata to be placed under the Education Ministry, with experts and dedicated resources to take over the programme and ensure that it is aligned with the overall direction of the education system.

Rosmah can also make a healthy donation to the Education Ministry while at it, seeing as she shares the aspiration of many to see the success of our education.

Response to challenge by Idris Jusoh for Selangor to implement free education

I refer to the statement made recently by the Higher Education Minister, Idris Jusoh, regarding free education.

According to reports, Idris Jusoh had challenged Selangor to implement free education for Selangor-owned university UNISEL.

This statement is woefully misleading as the Minister would rather focus on gaining political points rather than addressing the facts.

It should be noted here that Pakatan Harapan’s promise to provide free and equitable education is upon winning over the federal government.

Education, including higher education is placed under the Federal list in the Federal Constitution.

In addition, Selangor’s budget is merely RM3 billion compared to the RM260 billion Federal budget, even though we contribute more than 20% of the national Gross Domestic Product.

This is down to tax policy which does not provide a fair tax return distribution among states. Unlike in Germany for example, its Federal Financial Equalisation system sees a more efficient and equitable tax distribution that is almost half of various taxes including corporate tax, income tax and value-added tax.

As such if the Minister feels supportive of our effort to provide free education, why not get the cabinet to revisit the national tax distribution among states.

At the moment, with a budget of RM3.4 billion Selangor is performing wonders with its distribution of state wealth through various initiatives under its Inisiatif Peduli Rakyat programme which now holds about 40 initiatives.

These initiatives ranges from free water, free bus, free WiFi to primary healthcare subsidy scheme (Peduli Sihat) and pre-school subsidy for lower income families (Tunas).

UNISEL’s fee structure is already at an affordable rate compared to other private universities, and under IPR, Selangor also provides education support through Hadiah IPT, Tabung Biasiswa Selangorku, Peduli Siswa, interest-free convertible loan and Brain Bank, a doctorate level scholarship at the world’s top universities.

UNISEL has also introduced a dermasiswa program at the foundation level whereby studies at the foundation level is free if the student continues his or her degree at UNISEL.

The Minister should therefore stick to the facts, focus on uplifting our current derisory state of education and stop playing politics.

After years of governing the country, Barisan Nasional has only caused Malaysia to go backwards and it is time we put a stop to it.

Do not risk the future of our children under a government that does not care about the people’s well-being.

Change is desperately needed to uplift Malaysian universities

It has been reported that Malaysian universities have failed to make it into the top 100 of the first-ever Times Higher Education (THE) Asia-Pacific University Ranking 2017.

The rankings—it should be noted—use the same performance indicators at the THE’s World University Rankings, with certain adjustments.

As per the THE’s Asia-Pacific rankings, the top 5 universities in the region are the National University of Singapore, Peking University, the University of Melbourne, Tsinghua University and the Nanyang Technological University.

Conversely, the top 5 Malaysian universities in the list are the Universiti Putra Malaysia (128), Universiti Teknologi Malaysia (130), Universiti Teknologi Petronas (138), Universiti Sains Malaysia (149) and Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia (154).

This performance is very disappointing, although of course university rankings cannot only be the barometer of an institution’s strengths.

Nevertheless, our universities’ failing to crack the top 100 suggests that international perceptions towards our higher education institutions remain poor.

It is also extremely worrying that flagship institutions such as the University of Malaya failed to even be placed in the list.

The rankings are a clear sign as any that the BN government’s education policies are not working despite a dizzying number of policy changes.

Change is desperately needed if Malaysia is to prepare its students for the future, including the challenges of online education, automation and globalisation.

The Pakatan Harapan Youth have recently outlined its #HarapanAnakMuda platform that a PH-led government will embark on in regards to education should we win power in the next General Elections.

We will seek to implement initiatives such as free education for public universities as well as to build more high-quality higher learning institutes including universities, teaching colleges and vocational colleges to meet growing demand for tertiary education.

We will also to strengthen and defend the autonomy of higher education institutions, which has been eroded under the current government.

At the end of the day, improving education in Malaysia will require political will and that can only come about by electing a PH government in the next General Elections.

#HarapanAnakMuda: Towards an equitable and excellent education system

The government has recently admitted the need to reform our education system, but without a hint of irony they failed to mention the million ringgit formation of the Malaysian Education Blueprint which is a long term plan set to achieve its target by 2025.

We have seen this situation occur again and again in this country, whereby each new Education Minister comes in to redefine Malaysian education with no clear goals, or even a proper, sustained plan that prioritises the people’s interests.

This has not only affected the quality of our education, but it has also impacted our marginalised certain segments of our society that does not have access to better education due to lack of means or the lack of attention given by the government.

Democratising education

The government has provided a plethora of lip service when it comes to education, but in the end missing the bigger picture when it comes to addressing the real concerns. They have not aligned any of their strategies to the National Education Philosophy which seeks to enhance the fundamentals of being through education.

One of the most basic of concern is the right and access to education, which so far has been unequal at all levels of development. In this regard Pakatan Youth will promise a more equitable distribution of quality education which ultimately addresses the widening social inequality caused by the current status quo.

We believe wholeheartedly that education begins from birth and as such we believe a free, quality early childhood education is key to ensure that everyone begins on the right footing. Taking leaf from Selangor’s TUNAS programme which partly supports kindergarten fees for children from needy family, this concept can be further expanded nationally.

At the primary and secondary school level, we are also mooting for a part-decentralisation of school administration with greater autonomy for schools and district education offices. We realise that education is dynamic, and with disparity that is apparent in society it is therefore unrealistic to expect all schools to carry out a single education system without varying results.

The Federal Government should also play a greater role supporting alternative schools, recognising the choice of parents to educate their kids. This has been implemented by Penang and Selangor state governments through their support for Islamic and vernacular schools.

On that note, more will be invested to improve school facilities in rural areas, including building safe passage to school with better road system as well as hostels. Students need to learn in a conducive environment, but unfortunately right now the conditions leave a lot to be desired.

Recognising UEC and thanawi

An issue which the government has been avoiding for years is the recognition of UEC certificates and empat thanawi. It is baffling that this continue to be the case given the government has everything to gain from recognising these certificates.

For UEC especially, the certificate is recognised by some of the world’s most renowned universities but continue to be sidelined in Malaysia. As a result we are losing our own talents to others.

As a start, Selangor state government has recognised UEC through its state universities and the Penang and Sarawak government have also recognised the same. This policy should be applied nationally to prevent further outflow of talent.

Higher education agenda

In addition, we also maintain our stance of providing free education at public universities.

With a rising cost of living and stagnant wages, what the BN government has done to the people is truly unjust, and the fact that the government still has the gall to cut huge portions of the education budget making their actions almost criminal in nature.

The reality is the concept has been successfully applied in advanced nations like Finland, Germany, Sweden and Norway which are recognised as having some of the world’s best education system.

Of course, in this regard, we do not expect the instantly phase out PTPTN but realistically there should be certain leeway with regard to payment of the loan, and as such taking into account the cost living, PTPTN payment should only be made compulsory once a person’s salary has reached a minimum of RM4,000.

Universities must also be granted the autonomy and freedom so students can fully participate in issues of the country. Selection of university vice chancellors and rectors should be made without political interference.

Pakatan Harapan also proposes to build more higher learning institutes, including universities, teaching colleges and vocational colleges, to reduce demand on private higher institutions of learning. This will reduce private institutions that do not pass the grade and ensure only the best ones survive.

In order to avoid a glut of university graduates we also propose to enhance technical and vocational education with high-end disciplines which is also vital if this country were to move towards an advanced economy premised on highly skilled workforce.

Commit towards an equitable future

Barisan Nasional has failed this country’s education system, and has risked our future. We must take a stand now to rid of such ill-discipline in planning for a more sustainable, fair and well-balanced education programme that will improve the lives of all levels of society. As education is fundamental towards solving social inequalities, Pakatan Harapan will ensure that education gets the priority it deserves.

#HarapanAnakMuda

Nik Nazmi Nik Ahmad
AMK Leader

Wong Kah Woh
DAPSY National Chief

Syed Saddiq Syed Abdul Rahman
ARMADA National Chief

Mohd Sany Hamzan
Amanah Youth National Chief

Free Education – the Solution to PTPTN Woes

The state of Malaysia’s higher education today is largely due to the privatisation of the sector. This started in 1996 when Najib Abdul Razak was the Education Minister and the Education Act and Private Higher Education Institution Act were the introduced.

In 1997, PTPTN was established. It was formed to provide students with funds to pursue higher education. This allowed the rapid growth of private institutions of higher learning. In 2007, the amount of PTPTN funds disbursed to private institutions surpassed public institutions for the first time and this has continued until today. In 2015, RM2.5 billion were disbursed to private institutions compared to RM1.7 billion for public institutions.

Expert Market, a website compared tuition fee data from Quacquarelli Symonds’ Top Universities ranking for the academic year 2014/2015 and the Gallup Median Self-Reported Income report data in 2013. The average tuition fee cost in Malaysia according to their report was US$18,000. The percentage of salary spent on tuition fees in Malaysia was 55 percent. By comparison the percentage was 73 percent for Chile, 53 percent for the US, 42 percent for the UK, 36 percent for Singapore and 18 percent for Japan. The government responded that this does not reflect fees for public universities but if one compares it to average private institutions’ fees it makes sense.

At the same time, the government severely cut spending for public universities. In the 2016 budget, the allocation was cut by RM1.4 billion, 27 percent compared to the previous year. The allocation for scholarships, bursaries and educational assistance was cut by RM812 million (23 percent). Thus poor students who depend on these grants suffered immeasurably.

For the following year, the total allocation for the 20 public universities were cut from RM7.57 billion to RM6.12 billion (19.23 percent). Unsurprisingly, places in public universities became scarcer. The KEADILAN Higher Education Advisory Panel – of which I was a member – received numerous complaints of excellent students not getting courses they applied for in university due to this trend.

Thus, students seeking higher education opportunities in Malaysia increasingly found that the opportunities were more likely available in private institutions – which are more expensive. Private institutions also treated PTPTN as an opportunity for them to get ‘easy money’ from the corporation while the corporation bears the risk of collecting the debt from the students when they graduate.

As many students grapple with unemployment (not having a job), underemployment (being employed in a job that pays below the expected wage of a graduate), low and stagnant wages in general, and a high cost of living, PTPTN repayment rates remain low. In 2015, the unemployment rate for those with tertiary education was 3.8 percent, compared to 1.8 percent for those with only primary education or no formal schooling. From 2011 to 2015, the accumulated losses for PTPTN reached RM6.5 billion. In 2015, the unpaid PTPTN debt for the year reached RM8.49 billion. The repayment rate was a measly 46.6 percent.

In order to overcome this, PTPTN has employed various methods. This includes listing borrowers under CCRIS, which affects the chances of errant borrowers from getting housing and hire purchase loans; blacklisting the passport of errant borrowers; no longer providing full PTPTN funding; and encouraging the withdrawal of EPF savings in order for graduates to make payments.

The listing borrowers under CCRIS and encouraging the withdrawal of precious retirement funds are counter-productive, and only pushes poorer borrowers into a vicious cycle. Instead, I would argue that repayment should only be made after earning a minimal salary – as it is done in the UK and Australia – say, RM4,000 a month.

In the long term however, it is clear that PTPTN is not sustainable. The solution is free higher education for public universities. After all, this is not a pipe dream but already a reality in Finland, Sweden, Norway, Germany and Scotland. Chile is introducing the policy for half of the poorest 50 percent of its students in 2016 due to historic high university fees (see above).

In addition, poor students should be given a monthly living and accommodation allowance. In 2013, it was estimated that to introduce such a policy in Malaysia would cost the country RM5 billion a year.

We should phase out PSD and MARA undergraduate scholarships overseas. This policy made sense when the country was lacking in universities in the 1970s and 1980s but does not make sense today. After all, many PSD scholars are allowed to migrate overseas after their university studies without paying a single sen to the government! Would not it be better to invest in our local public universities instead?

We should also build more public universities to reduce the demand on private institutions of higher learning. This will reduce the need for the fly-by-night private institutions and only allow the best to survive. At the same time, we can take a leaf from Germany’s experience in making free higher education possible by ensuring that technical and vocational education are attractive to avoid a glut of university graduates in the market.

The Federal Government 2016 Budget is a big disapppoinment

Barisan Nasional’s Budget 2016 leaves much to be desired, as we are seeing nothing but a rehashed fiscal strategy from Najib Razak’s first year as Prime Minister.

The middle income continues to be left out in the cold, and although the wealthy will face higher taxes, the administration has done nothing about corporations, meanwhile the lower income is still burdened by GST as the rest of us.

That said, what is most worrying about Budget 2016 is the RM1.4 billion decrease in Higher Education budget. The government will justify by saying that the slash is in line with its Higher Education Blueprint, which seeks to encourage self-funding by Universities. However, the large amount slashed does nothing to help this cause given that the Blueprint has only been announced this year and the Universities has only had several months to come to terms with it.

The development expenditure for the Higher Education budget is also at its lowest since Najib became Prime Minister, and at 12.04% of the total budget it is a marked decrease from the 34.55% of the total allocated budget in 2010.

It is well known that the quality of our local higher education institution has been on a decline, even though the country itself is brimming with talent. The brain drain issue is well documented, and while the government is supposed to inspire greater confidence in the IPTAs, the budget announcement has in fact dampened the mood.

Such inconsideration will definitely raise plenty of issues. Will the Universities take a hit with less enrollment? Will researches be affected? Will students receive less attention given that Universities will be a lot more focused in acquiring funds?

Places in Universities have been reduced for two consecutive years while students who qualify to go to Universities are rising. Thus, students who do not get a place or relevant course in public Universities end up in private Universities and Colleges and rely on PTPTN loans. Yet PTPTN loans have been cut between 15 to 25 percent.

Furthermore this comes on top of recent issues with regard to MARA and JPA scholarships which has seen policies being altered mid-stream, number of scholars trimmed down excessively and welfare of students being ignored almost totally.

All of these raises the question on whether the government has given up on higher education altogether and would rather gamble on the fate of the future generation in order close the financial potholes caused by Najib Razak’s administration.

Budget 2016 is nothing but a sign of Najib’s selfishness and incompetence. With an obvious focus to fish for rural votes, Barisan Nasional has effectively declared war on the middle class.