The Colour of Scholarships

Considering the function of academic scholarships and thereto just who should be entitled to scholarships.

When Najib proposed to open scholarship opportunities to all top scorers, particularly 9A’s and above, I saluted the move and thought nothing more of the matter. A politician buckling to popular tit-bits is nothing new and at least he’s heading in the right direction. However, it irked me as the usual Malay-rights groups, the Perkasa-led Malay Consultative Council (MPM) responded to it with “constructive” criticisms, claiming that it should reflect 67% composition of the Malay community in Malaysia.


My response to this is this: firstly, Professor Datuk Dr Kamarudin Kachar, not all 67% are Malaysian Malays. Some of them are actually assimilated Indonesians whose parents holds red MyKads. Many Malaysians are denied opportunities on the fallacy that they are of the wrong ethnicity and that they are less likely to be “loyal” to Malaysia. Instead, as long as you are a “Malay,” “imported” or not, you are entitled to a scholarship, and admittance to heavily subsidised boarding schools.

My point is not that Malaysian-born students of Indonesian parentage who are intelligent enough do not deserve scholarships by virtue of their parents being immigrants. On the contrary, hard work and diligence should always be rewarded. I know some of these kids – they’ve studied hard and they should be awarded where deserved. I am simply pointing out how our education system discriminates Malaysians.

It is ridiculous that descendants of immigrants are awarded privileges denied to generations born and raised as Malaysians on the basis of race and religion. The argument that affirmative action policies are meant to help the Malays falls here. Right to education in Malaysia is distributed to her citizens on the basis of race and religion is sanctioned by the State on no moral or ethical grounds, but purely on the “in-group vs. out-group” mentality. Why develop descendants of immigrants while neglecting and disparaging our own purely because they are different from the acceptable “original” settlers of Malaya?

Secondly, for many people tertiary education is the only way to break the cycle of poverty and as a means to social mobility. In short, education is the only way to help provide for your parents and your siblings. It is the only way you can protect the rights of your family and your properties against bad people. It is that golden gateway to a better life. The cycle of poverty is not specifically restricted to the Malays in the rural areas.

There are the rural and urban poor, and despite the differences in skin colour, private religious beliefs, and dietary preferences, they are no less human than your average Muhammad. Everyone is the same; we worry about grades, food, shelter, girlfriend/boyfriend, parents, allowances, and etc. It is our political parties that continuously indoctrinate us into thinking in terms of “Malay” and “non-Malay” as “human” and “less human,” or “us” and “them.” There is no reason whatsoever for racial quotas for scholarships as we are all Homo sapiens – human beings who are essentially the same and deserve the same rights.

Thirdly, I have observed that Malays as a community celebrates mediocrity. The concept of fear, self-guilt, insecurity and excessive emotional response is propagated through the most dangerous of tools – religion. Even places of worship; such as the surau and mosques are not exempt from political intrigue. I am sick and tired of watching and listening to beautiful scriptures of the Holy Quran taken out of context and manipulated to suit the purposes of the elite, wealthy, and privileged to maintain their power base. I know I shouldn’t be surprised, the scripts werre all written and approved by the state’s religious body, but it does make it more questionable, does it not?

It is no secret that as a collective, humans are fairly obtuse. The common sense of the pacifist few often escapes them, and therefore the masterful skill of the other few who promulgates hatred, suspicion, and utter ignorance carries more conviction as truth than the message of universal love and harmony. How Malays love their drama enam petang! The ever present threat of imaginary enemies was created to divert blame and responsibility from themselves.

Fourthly, I do not see this as a point of conflict for anyone affected by the change of policies. The way I see it, the Malay boys and girls will instead be told that they actually deserve the grades that they acquired through their own sweat and midnight oil-burning, to have the self-esteem to do whatever they set their minds to, and that they do not need crutches to achieve their dreams and help their families.

The only people who dramatise an otherwise positive move for all youths in this country, are people who feel threatened by the lack of dependence and growing confidence of the previously trodden majority – those who feel that to keep being relevant, they need to bully and put others down to feel better about themselves.

Finally, I recommend several criteria as a basis of Federal Scholarships. Scholarships should only be awarded to members of the lower-middle to poverty level students who exhibited excellent co-curricular achievements as well as good academic grades. A well-balanced individual is the best product that could be produced by only the best of institutions.

Students from this demographic tend to appreciate their education more, as well as the public knowledge of taxpayer monies well spent. Furthermore, the upper-middle class and above should be completely disqualified from eligibility to these scholarships, and should instead be encouraged to take up PTPTN or consider other financial options.

Most of them can afford private education, anyway. Another favourite suggestion by a friend of mine is to completely do away with overseas scholarships and force everyone to study in local universities. This is due to the fact that once given an opportunity to go abroad, the precious few brainy ones upon considering the socio-political circumstances in Malaysia, choose not to return. Our education coffers shall also be saved, and can be channeled to improve dilapidated Tamil and Orang Asli primary or secondary schools or increase salaries of long-suffering teachers.

For the record, I turned down scholarships because I genuinely believe that it should go to people who really need them. I find it unfair that students who can afford original Guess, DKNY and Chanel were also awarded scholarships when they obviously need it not.

My, what a long rant in reply to one man’s few sentences. Well, I have said my two cents. In conclusion, I truly believe on Federal Scholarships for those who deserve it by merit and based on their family’s financial background. Any thoughts, anyone?

LB: In her own words – Azira Aziz is a mongrel Malaysian who hopes to have “Malay” and “non-Malay” relegated as a relic of the past sometime in the future. A graduate from UiTM, and is currently undergoing training to become a lawyer.

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This young lawyer harbours hope that one day Malaysians irrespective of ethnicity and religion have equal rights under the law, as we all are before the eyes of God. She is moving with UndiMsia! ( and will always be an Anak Bangsa Malaysia. (

Posted on 19 July 2010. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0.

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