THE PRIVATE higher education industry is optimistic that enrolment figures will increase as a result of the proposals in Budget 2004 for a better financial assistance scheme for those who wish to pursue higher education.
The Private Higher Education Fund Corporation (PTPTN) loan scheme may be extended to cover the final year of a degree course overseas and the repayment scheme will be restructured to ease the burden on fresh graduates.
“The changes to the Private Higher Education Fund Corporation (PTPTN) loan scheme will certainly translate to added interests in our institutions,'' says KBU International College chief executive officer Datuk Teo Chiang Liang.
“We are happy that the Government is making alternatives to public university education more accessible to school leavers.”
He hopes the proposal to extend the loan to finance students' studies overseas in their final year would be given the nod as it would ease parents' financial burden to educate their children.
When tabling Budget 2004, Prime Minister Datuk Seri Dr Mahathir Mohamad said that the Government was considering extending the PTPTN loan facility to students pursuing twinning programmes abroad for their final year of study in institutions of higher learning “recognised by the Government and in courses encouraged by the Government”.
Teo says that having more Malaysians study abroad for a year would help the country in its bid to be a developed economy and remain competitive globally.
“The international experience is something students will learn and bring back to Malaysia. It is only going to result in better quality graduates,” he says.
Dr Mahathir said the interest rates on PTPTN loans would also be reduced from the current rate of 4% to 3%, while the repayment schedule would commence on the third year after students start working.
“The repayment schedule will also be restructured to enable borrowers to repay their loans at 5% of their monthly income for the first five years and 10% for the balance of the repayment period,” he announced.
A total of RM7bil has been disbursed to students since the fund's inception and for this year alone, the Government has allocated RM2.2bil for 100,000 students expected to take up the loans.
Education once again received the highest allocation in the Budget with a quarter of the total allocation or RM20.2bil. Although this is a drop from last year's RM29.6bil allocation, the distribution of funding “covered all areas”.
Says National Union of the Teaching Profession (NUTP) secretary-general Datuk N. Siva Subramaniam: ”From the proposed developments for schools to changes to the PTPTN loan scheme and benefits for the disadvantaged communities, the budget proves that investing in the rakyat is a priority for the Government,” he adds.
For example, 44 primary, 43 secondary and three technical schools as well as 59 hostels will be set up soon. “Another benefit, the RM25 monthly allowance for disabled students in primary and secondary schools may seem like a small amount, but it will come in handy for the low income group,” Siva Subramaniam adds.
The Malaysian Association of Private Colleges and Universities (Mapcu) and the National Association of Private Educational Institutions (Napei) both hailed the proposals for the private sector.
They welcomed the opening of education promotion offices by the ministry in Dubai, Ho Chi Minh, Beijing and Jakarta, aimed at increasing Malaysia's stake in the regional education market.
“This marketing at strategic overseas markets would certainly add to our competitiveness globally,” Teo says.
Napei estimates that the foreign student population will reach 54,000 by 2007, bringing in a direct income of RM3bil, and to 93,000 students by 2010, with RM5.2bil in income, excluding the expected income from educational tourism.
Mapcu is also hopeful that academics and experts from private institutions of higher learning would now be included in the National Accreditation Board's (LAN) list of moderators, going by what Dr Mahathir announced. He had said that LAN would invite lecturers and experts from public and private institutions to help undertake validation, moderation and accreditation of programmes.
“For this purpose, the Government proposes that fees or honorarium received by these lecturers or experts who assist in validation, moderation or accreditation, be exempted from income tax,” the Prime Minister said.
Teo, a Mapcu member, says he is pleased with the “break”.
Dr Mahathir added that under the Development Expenditure for education, a sum of RM3.7bil would be provided, including RM1.8bil for primary and secondary schools, hostels and teachers’ quarters.
“A sum of RM637mil is allocated for school computerisation programmes while RM490mil is for financing infrastructure requirements of public institutions of higher learning,” he added.
Musa says the allocation for the computerisation programme was not to make up for losses that may have been incurred as a result of the shoddy workmanship in the construction of the labs under Phase One of its implementation. “The sum allocated will all be for Phase Three,” he said when contacted.
The other items mentioned for education included plans to roll out the smart school programme in stages and increase Internet access in schools.
Also, an amount of RM200mil has been allocated to the Poor Pupils' Fund launched in July to help poor students gain an education, inline with the Government's policy to provide basic compulsory education all children.
“The major item in the Budget for education is perhaps changes to the PTPTN loan scheme but across the board it augurs well for all communities, including the poor and disabled,” Siva Subramaniam says.