Umno’s Khairy Jamaluddin argues that PKR’s plan to abolish study loans could lead the nation to bankruptcy while PKR’s Rafizi insists that free higher education is financially sustainable.
I thought the moderator’s question to Khairy in ‘Part 2’ was ‘cheeky’, though of course most pertinent: “I believe it’s not that the students don’t want to repay their study loans, but when they look at Twitter, Facebook, the blogs and others, they see bigger debts incurred by certain personalities (he mentions cases linked to Tajudin and Shahrizat), but they are not blacklisted or blocked from leaving the country…. When small debtors are deemed to be offenders (contrasted with cases involving) large amounts of public money – is this some kind of privilege?”
Khairy, however, countered he is confident that Danaharta did not incur any losses in the Tajudin cases while the NFC chairman is being charged.
Rafizi made an important point: Initially until 2005, the bulk of the study loans went to public universities and colleges. But since 2005, higher education has become a commodity and the bulk of the PTPTN loans are going to private colleges, which have mushroomed all over the country. PTPTN has become the capital that has resulted in higher education becoming commoditised and burdensome to the rakyat, he said.
This is not far off the mark: some of the main beneficiaries of the PTPTN loans have been these private colleges while many of the students graduating from these college (think nursing college students) are finding it extremely difficult to find jobs.
Personally, I believe free or minimal cost (but good quality!) higher education at public universities is eminently possibly if the nation’s finances are prudently managed.
Rafizi hammered home a crucial point: it is a fallacy to assume that providing free education requires higher income tax rates. He drew a comparison with Finland, which provides top-class free education right up to PhD level: for taxable incomes in the upper bracket of RM200000 and above, Malaysia has a tax rate rate of 26 per cent; in Finland, it is 21.5 per cent.
It is all a matter of national priority – where you want to put your money: in submarines or in schools/universities. According to Rafizi, Malaysia’s higher education spending is only 0.83 per cent of GDP. Turkey which provides free education, spends around one per cent while Finland spends 1.6 per cent.
“The problem is in Malaysia, we put our money in big infrastructure projects – buildings, highways, etc,” says Rafizi.
The moderator, Maszlee Malik, did a splendid job in keeping the enthusiastic crowd of over 400 under control with his wry humour during the debate organised by Malay-language daily Sinar Harian. He thanked the the audience for their maturity and for keeping their emotions in check. “Until now, the chairs have not been lifted (from the ground),” he quipped. “We want to prove to those who are concerned about the culture of political debates – Malaysians are now mature.”