IT'S that time of the year when many university students bid their families farewell and begin their journey towards independence and self-discovery.
That journey can be daunting, a lot to do with self-doubt in an unfamiliar environment. But it's an exciting adventure for some, one that is filled with learning opportunities and building new (and sometimes long-lasting) friendships.
To scholarship students, there may be extra pressure of performing well in their studies, with high hopes of them returning with the skills and knowledge needed to serve the country.
Getting scholarships for university is a big deal in Brunei. So much so that we have ceremonies celebrating and promoting these hundreds of students who were deemed important enough to deserve the country's attention.
When I was doing research for a curated story on bonded scholars who did not return to Brunei, I did not expect it to generate a discussion that drew hundreds of comments.
Such attention suggests that a lot of Bruneians care about how these scholars are going to contribute towards nation-building.
It also indicates that Brunei places a heavy load on the shoulders of scholarship students. Yes, we don't have enough human resources in this country, so we depend on them to make this country a better place.
Here's the problem. We don't know the reason(s) these bonded scholars did not return to the country, but many were quick to condemn their actions. When making a judgement, there is a need to listen to both sides of the story. We need to weigh what information has been presented and what has not been conveyed to the public.
Some netizens said they're wrong because they agreed to sign a contract that requires them to return and serve the country. However, this issue goes beyond who is wrong or what is the right thing to do. Instead, it tells us that there are inherent flaws in Brunei's system of awarding scholarships.
The Ministry of Education has not been transparent about how many bonded scholars secured jobs once they return to Brunei. How long did these bonded scholars wait before they were posted? Are these scholars working in jobs that correlate to their qualifications? Does the government identify whether there are jobs available in specific areas before awarding bonded scholarships? The only information that was relayed was the number of scholars who fail to serve their bond, and the amount of money spent on them.
There are simply not enough jobs in the public sector for every single scholar because Brunei's economy is not growing fast enough to create jobs. The government needs to evaluate whether it should amend rules to allow bonded scholars to work in the private sector or start their own business.
What harm would this have as long as they are still working in the country, and playing their part in nation-building? Afterall, His Majesty the Sultan and Yang Di-Pertuan of Brunei Darussalam has reiterated calls for graduates to work in the private sector to ensure “inclusive development”.
This leads to the next question: Is there a need to provide scholarships to hundreds of students every year? We have a lot of bright students who excel in their studies and show great character, but it is not sustainable for the government to sponsor every student.
How many of these scholarship students can afford to pay for higher education? How many scholarship recipients are from low-income families?
Should children of senior government officials – those who earn $15,000 or more per month – apply for scholarships? Let's not pretend that there are no wealthy students who take money from the government for further studies. And I can already hear objections to this, saying it's not fair.
It can be argued that these wealthy students deserve it since scholarships are based on merit. However, would wealthy students sleep better knowing that they’ve helped send someone else who needed the financial aid to pursue their education?
This sense of entitlement has to change in Brunei. One cannot continue to take money from the government and not give back. Based on Ministry of Education figures, more than 3,600 students were awarded scholarships to universities since 1984 to 2007. Where are they now?
The government has its role to play in giving as many students as possible the opportunity to reach their potential, but scholarship students have to ask themselves what have they done which the country can be proud of.
Success is subjective, but it is not just measured by getting a scholarship, gaining a first class honours degree or a PhD. Education gives you the tools to success, but what determines success is how you use those tools to make a positive impact on other people's lives.
The Brunei Times
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