I fully support the writer’s view. And that’s all I have to say about this matter.
16 APRIL — As I wrote this piece I am reading a tweet from a friend that said a group of university students are creating a human fort at Dataran Merdeka to defend their tents from being demolished by City Hall. At the same time, a Malaysiakini report dated 12 April 2012 estimated that only about 300-500 graduates participated in the demonstration to abolish Perbadanan Tabung Pendidikan Tinggi Negara (PTPTN) held in Kuala Lumpur.
Demanding PTPTN to be abolished? Interestingly, the group shouted slogans, amongst them “Najib Altantuya”, “Jahanam Umno-BN”, “Musnah Rosmah” and “Jahanam Najib”. Firstly, what’s Altantuya, Rosmah and “Jahanam Najib” got to do with PTPTN? Secondly, based on current reports, there are up to 227,000 university students nationwide, meaning only about 0.2% came to support the demonstration. Where is the balance 226,500 students, who largely make up the group that borrows from PTPTN?
A more unfortunate news – there’s also reports that a group of youths put wreaths on photos of the Prime Minister and Minister of Higher Education. I do not see the link between Altantuya, Rosmah as well as the insults hurled at the Government’s coalition party, with the issue of abolishing PTPTN. This small group of 0.2% youths, all of them are students of institutes of higher learning, all of them graduates. Therefore, a debate has to be answered with a debate. If the Prime Minister says abolishing PTPTN can bankrupt the country, then graduates must argue back using economic theories that they learn in the lecture halls of their respective universities. Not by countering RM43billion with “Najib Altantuya” slogan. I became confused, are these undergraduates or Mat Rempit Jalan Kebun?
If we scrutinise the higher education reformation proposal put forward by Rafizi Ramli, PKR’s Strategic Director, the principles behind abolishing PTPTN can be done by having the Government picking up the tabs for: a) school fees and b) accommodation. PTPTN debt amounting to RM27.5billion can be amortized by the Government at RM2billion a year using oil and gas revenue (from Petronas, of course) in 15 years. For the future, Rafizi proposed that 10 more public institutes of higher learning (IPTA) to be built to provide for 100,000 students, within the next 10 years.
This model seems attractive, however there are a few big questions that beg further scrutiny. Firstly, if the Government pays for school fees and provides accommodation, what about the students’ living expenses? Secondly, the dependence on Petronas is seen as highly unsustainable. Thirdly, what about the cost of building the proposed 10 IPTAs, as well as the future cost of managing them (staff salaries and other expenses)?
What is the real issue with PTPTN? According to Dr Asraf Wajdi Dusuki, the 1% service charge mechanism imposed by PTPTN does not meet Syariah Standard AAOIFI, in fact the majority of clerics at the international level only allow charges based on real cost.
Wow! This 1% charge does not meet syariah standards, though the 1% ujrah concept was only put into motion around September 2011. What about the 3-4% charges that were imposed on students for the past 13 years since PTPTN was introduced in 1997?
This is the real issue with PTPTN. PTPTN is used for business, making profit through “good intentions” to help needy students to further their tertiary education. That is why we can understand students who defaulted payment can be blacklisted and prohibited from leaving the country, like in the ongoing case of Mr. Mandeep Singh, who sued PTPTN over the matter.
The idea of doing business with needy students through PTPTN is most immoral. Suddenly after 13 years, the service charge can be lowered using ujrah? What’s up with that?
Politics without romance
I think it would be interesting if we can discuss the problem of financing the school fees, accommodation and living expenses of these over 227,000 graduates using an economic framework. Is the economic model that we use now based on Gary Becker’s “Human Capital” theory? If we take Mr. Amin Ahmad’s article on Legatum Prosperity Index into account – that only 68% of Malaysians finish high school (secondary education) as compared to other countries, placing Malaysia at number 81, then what is the most appropriate economic model that we should implement to solve the dropout problem of these over 32% students?
This is where we need economic graduates to propose solutions to the current Government on how the country’s resources can be channelled, especially since we can use RM43billion as the base of the budget. As an example, if this James Buchanan’s “Public Choice” framework proposed by Pakatan Rakyat is not suitable, the students should propose alternative models based on their higher education learnings.
Undergraduates know about economic cycles, growth, tax policies and expenditure, our existing rational choice theory, international trade and markets. Therefore, I am hoping that these graduates will come forward with models such as Keynesian’s or Hayek’s “laissez-faire” to replace Anwar Ibrahim’s “politics without romance” framework. This is when the society needs these graduates to speak up about fiscal policy, the country’s economic system and the implications of the RM27.5 – RM43 billion burden every year instead of emptily screaming “Mansuh PTPTN”, “Free education now!” or “Mahasiswa bukan robot”.
So, what are our choices, really? a) retain PTPTN by denouncing the service charge i.e. you pay what you borrow or; b) abolish PTPTN altogether and use Rafizi’s model?
Is free education realistic? Yes, free education exists. You can google phrases such as “free education” or refer to sites like “scholarship 4 development” and you will get thousands of links to institutes of tertiary education, mostly in North America and Europe, that offer free education. This, of course, does not take into consideration how those countries fund their own citizens’ education, like Germany for instance.
The difference between Malaysia and developed countries is this, the initiative towards free education has become a political matter as well as capital to fund business. PTPTN is used as a business opportunity, not as an honest channel to provide higher education to the people. There is tendency for government supporters to manipulate PTPTN with issues of payment defaulters. However, I think that is too juvenile.
The PTPTN issue is an education issue at its basic level. This is not the time for us to argue “you borrow, you must pay”! Unfortunately, Pakatan Rakyat succeeds in discussing the PTPTN issue philosophically, that is, providing free education up til first degree at least. The reality is the percentage of people continuing their studies to tertiary level is less than 29.7% as compared to North Korea’s 96%. If the Government can mete out easy loans amounting to RM250million to its main leaders, or bail out crony companies up til RM500million, what is the biggest hurdle for the Government to realise free education for the people?
What we need right now is a government that works towards realising initiatives and access to free education, to increase student enrollment in tertiary level. This initiative is not limited to purely abolishing PTPTN. From an economic point of view, an efficient management, minimising wastage as well as decreasing subsidies to cronies will shrink the money leakages which then can be used to fund this free education idea.
In addition, in the western countries not only free education is provided physically, they have also started to offer free education on the web. Websites such as Academic Earth, Curriki, p2p U dan The Khan Academy have long offered educational materials online for free. Recently, Massachusset Institute of Technology (MIT) created a website that provides access to its MIT lecture hall experience to the public through MIT.OpenCourseWare, on top of other institutions that have also embarked on similar missions such as Notre Dame OpenCourseWare, Open Yale, WebCast.Berkeley, LectureFox, Learn Out Loud, LearnThat, About U, GCF LearnFree, VideoJug, and TED.
I hope graduates that came to the demonstration on 12 April understood the basis of the discussion on this PTPTN issue from an economic standpoint, not just from a moral standpoint. It is not wrong to display student power, but as graduates the responsibility to fly your flag comes with an academic weight. I hope their academic discourse does not venture far from what we discussed above. These days demonstrations by students seem self-centered with slogans such as “Hidup Mahasiswa” and “Student Power” that glorifies the self instead of the cause. It is far from the demonstrations staged by students in the 70′s that used slogans on the economy, defending the poor and the plight of the farmers.
But I suppose the bigger issue is the ignorant state sweeping the rest of the students. 99.8% of our graduates do not even care about this PTPTN issue. Free education can be made possible if students speak up as one voice, pushing politicians to work together to find a concrete solution for the cause. But if only 500 students came, as compared to 227,000 students nationwide, what can we surmise from this, really?
My thesis is simple, our graduates need PTPTN. They prefer to borrow, the balance after deducting school fees can be used to buy an iPhone or iPad2. And after borrowing money has been culturalized for so long in our society, now they are scared to stand on their own two feet. That is why more than 226,500 students in the country turned a blind eye on the abolishment of PTPTN demonstration last Saturday. They don’t care that they have to pay RM63,000 when they only borrowed RM48,000. What’s important is that when the weekend rolls around, they can take their girfriends out to the movies, using money from PTPTN loans.
“…if you want to improve politics, improve the rules, improve the structure. Don’t expect politicians to behave differently. They behave according to their interests.” — James Buchanan
* Zul Fikri Zamir Mohamad Munir is a Fellow in Artist For d’Oppressed (AfdO), apart from being the Co-Founder of Teach For The Needs (TFTN).
* This is the personal opinion of the writer or publication. The Malaysian Insider does not endorse the view unless specified.