to Malaysian scholars abroad, we need to talk

Wednesday March 15, 2017

Cornell, Ithaca

It is almost the same debate resurfaces every time between Malaysian students, local versus abroad, that we almost always fail to reach a meaningful conclusion on what should we actually think and do. I came to realize that for almost every arguments brought forth by some group of people that in favor of reducing the scholarship recipients and making the scholarship holders more accountable to their spending habit abroad, the Malaysian students abroad almost always fail to live up to the expectation as scholars when we look and dissect their responses. I do feel the need to correct some misconceptions and I do hope I can do it well in the form of writing here on my blog.

To be honest, the counterargument provided by some (or perhaps, the majority in a knee-jerk-y fashion) is not compelling and not meaningful. The Malaysian at home are curious if the funding provided for tertiary education is worth it or not, though the question is often provocative: why do we see Malaysian abroad always traveling, less studying? This line of question is a direct hit with a not favorable tone, but it should not be an excuse for Malaysian abroad to reply back with bitter remarks. We might see a different kind of answers if the questions asked are phrased differently, but let’s stick with the provocative one first because that is more common.

It is understandable if Malaysian students abroad studying under government scholarship desire to deliver knockback responses such as “then are we supposed to tweet the struggle and the pain of studying instead?”, however, this binary comparison is not meaningful. The struggle and pain of studying is a non-story because believe it or not—local and abroad—the struggle of studying is universal. Some would argue that the mental and emotional toll are higher when studying abroad. I would like to inform that such argument is not compelling and on a case-specific basis, not unique to abroad only. Perhaps with a harsher tone, if you sign up to study abroad, then you should have informed yourself various ways things could go wrong and be prepared.

On struggle, I would like to make a case that studying locally is also a struggle. It is sort of easier to gain worldwide recognition upon completion of degree program abroad than at home (especially for UK/EU, US, AU), compared to local students. Students abroad are more likely to gain access to renowned experts, thus they are more likely to be exposed with recent breakthroughs. In term of facilities and equipment, students abroad could get better access compared to local. These three points illustrate that local students could entitle themselves strugglebrag points far more, but they are often put out of one’s mind just because they are studying locally.

When asked to prove accountability (again, with the aforementioned provocative tone) of spending habit, Malaysian students abroad sometimes take it as a cue of jealousy—while in some cases it might be. However, I would like to announce that a fiery response pointing out jealousy as the root of the question is an act of dismissing the real question—accountability. As a Malaysian student abroad under MARA scholarship, I am here asking my fellow friends to prove accountability on the half a million ringgit investment being made not because of jealousy but I am asking you whether the investment granted to you worth it or not.

It is troubling when some students abroad claim that once the scholarship contract is signed, you own the money. The word “own” here could very well mean that the government withholds a sum of money from you until a certain period of time. It is not like that. I would like to stress here that almost half a million ringgit here is an investment and you are expected to make a return beneficial to our society and country. If one would argue that “as long as the students fulfill academic/curriculum requirements, is it okay to do so?”, then here is my answer: it is going to be a marginal benefit to our country if your achievement abroad can be feasibly replicated locally. Bear in mind, the marginal benefit through your feasibly replicated achievements cost the country half a million ringgit. Succumbing to mediocrity (or even less than that) might as well prove that the scholarship you have up till now is not really for someone like you.

Perhaps this is a very radical view of mine but hear me out: any form of government funding/grant, if misappropriated, such action is considered as a form of theft and the person in question should be trialled for misconduct. I am concerned at how some people go like “hey I got good SPM results, hence my country owe me money” mentality. The country does not owe you, but you are expected to take a role to build your country.

I am not taking the position to prevent Malaysian students from traveling and learning the cultures. I am suggesting that the scholarly and professional opportunities you have abroad that are absent locally must be among your top priorities that you should attempt to achieve. Otherwise, it is meaningless if you holler all the good things about studying abroad and its breadth of opportunities but you do not act upon that.