Column – Why settle study loans

Why settle study loans

BEFORE we talk about the National Higher Education Fund Corp (PTPTN), let’s understand that it is primarily a rolling fund. This means it can only dish out money that it gets back.

Thus, if borrowers don’t pay or service their loans, it will reduce the amount available for the next batch of students. In other words, those paying their PTPTN loans are not just servicing a loan, they are also putting a freshman through college.

In March 2017, 660,000 Malaysians had not paid a single sen of their PTPTN loans. And by last November, PTPTN announced that 410,500 Malaysians had not paid a single sen, amounting to RM6.84 billion.

For last year until Sept 30, the amount collected was RM12.13 billion, instead of the full amount of RM18.97 billion. This means there will be less for students this year. Thus, with more student pursuing tertiary education with less funds for loans we will see more households bearing more costs.

This was made worse by announcement of a further extension for repayments to 12 months during the tabling of Budget 2018. Also announced was an extra RM200 million for the Bottom 40 (B40) group of households.

We were also informed of a tax exemption of up to RM6,000 for those saving in 1Malaysia Education Saving Scheme.

There was an announcement for discounts and rebates for people to pay back their loans. All of these will further erode the ability of PTPTN to cope with increased costs of students to eke out a living, perhaps even triggering another starving student (Mahasiswa Lapar) movement.

Pakatan Harapan manifesto has a promise to allow Malaysians to start servicing their student loans when they earn RM4,000 a month. This raises a few questions.

First, for the period between a student’s graduation and the time he gets a job and earns RM4,000, will the PTPTN loan be subject to compounded interest per annum?

Will there be an increase in minimum payments to cope with the increased amount in their loans?

What’s the duration for a working class borrower to start earning a RM4,000? I ask because that is how long we will be exempting more Malaysians from paying a single sen and reducing funds for students.

So a Pakatan Harapan government will delay PTPTN repayments and regularly inject funds into it to allow future batches of students to gain access to the loans.

If it is yet another government backed loan, injecting more funds will increase national debt, and while the compounded interest on the loans to students working to earn RM4,000 will also increase individual or household debt.

The manifesto will also allow Malaysians to buy a car without getting flagged by bad credit scores, get assistance from the government to buy a house, and fly overseas without being blacklisted.

Consider a few things that come to mind.

First, how do we view debt? Do we see it as something serious to the point that we consider it something that must be paid as a monthly cost, or do we see it as an elastic cost that should only be paid when you have disposable income?

Should debt be elastic without a time period, without penalties? After all, you can’t take back a graduate’s degree or diploma to make them repay their loans, can you?

What’s your stance on debt?

Now, if you have answered that question, I will put forward another?

Do we believe PTPTN should assist students who don’t have parents with high incomes – the middle and lower-income groups, at no added costs to manage the debts, payouts and paybacks, or even interest rates which will eventually allow the funding of future students?

Or, do we believe in the government pumping in more money to fund future students while allowing debtors to not have to pay their dues for three or four years?

Or, do we believe in writing off billions and let the government foot the bill and making tertiary education free?

Have a hard think.

Hafidz Baharom is a public relations practitioner. Comments: letters@thesundaily.com

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The Heat Malaysia column – Malaysia’s shrinking media scene 

A news piece in a local portal caught my eye, detailing the plight of the media sector, particularly journalists.
If you have yet to notice, there has definitely been a shrinking media industry in Malaysia. In fact, this trend will not be turning around anytime soon, and it did not start with The Malaysian Insider.
In fact, I believe this trend started in 2014, with The NutGraph shutting down.
The now defunct portal launched in 2008 went through the donation path, collecting RM41,503.83 by January 2010 to keep it running an entire year, after losing its investors. And then it was basically running on fumes for four years till it shut down.
We also saw the shutting down of The Heat (later The Heat Online), The Rakyat Post (and return), and also Malaysiakini’s business news portal, KiniBiz. The Heat Online was relaunched as The Heat Malaysia. What lies ahead?
On top of that, news channels for television also shrunk – which includes ABN News and also Bloomberg Malaysia.
At the same time, it seems that even the pro-government media are facing the same problem.
Case in point – Utusan Malaysia has gone on the record through the National Union of Journalists (NUJ) asking for its owners to let it go if payments are delayed.
There have also been rumours that even the official government media channels – Bernama, Radio Televisyen Malaysia (RTM) and even listed Media Prima Bhd are having trouble retaining, let alone recruiting staff.
September 2016 saw even the English daily New Straits Times rumoured to be going fully digital.
Unfortunately, with the growing ability to cut out media as the middle guy in advertising through social media which is less (much less) of a cost centre, money is hard to come by.
There are models that work. I’m sure Astro is in fact keeping its Awani News in check. Other than that, only ones still keeping in the black thus far are The Star and Malaysiakini.
The latter due to its subscription based pay wall, the former due to being able to be funded largely through advertising.
But this is honestly a worldwide trend that even affects the US and even the UK.
In the US, paywalls are being erected in an effort to get people to pay for sustainable news organisations. The Boston Globe – made famous through Oscar winning movie Spotlight – has a five free stories a day limit before asking people to subscribe.
At the same time, you have the New York Times also moving towards subscriptions, while papers such as the Wall Street Journal (WSJ) have kept themselves exclusively by subscription only.
Meanwhile in the UK, The Independent decided to go fully digital as well and have stopped publishing paper. As much as it is a way for news agencies to “go green”, I doubt that this was the case.
So, how do other countries maintain a thriving media industry? Shall we look at Denmark for a bit?
According to their Ministry of Culture website, there is in fact a “main and supplementary scheme as well as a three-year transition fund for media that obtain less in total aid from the production aid scheme than under the previous distribution of aid scheme”.
How much is this, in total?
Oh, €52 million over a period of three years, but not amounting to more than 35 per cent of the editorial cost.
See, other parts of the world see media as an industry worth supporting in its infancy – which is why I don’t blame Malaysiakini getting funds from the Open Society Foundations (OSF).
Journalism and news aren’t cheap, but it ensures an informed public. An informed public makes informed decisions. Thus, it is branded the Fourth Estate – for its ability to influence the general public.
It should in fact be part of our culture to have a thriving media industry, but with no assistance from the government (in fact, our government is a hindrance), the media industry will continue languishing and remaining dependent on others for income – case in point, political parties in some cases.
And that makes it a culture of one-sided information that will eventually lead to disinformation and in the end – total bias and bad decisions.
The Danes rightfully point out: “Media policy is thus regarded as an integral part of Danish cultural policy.”
Malaysians need to ask themselves – what is our culture when it comes to media?

The Heat Malaysia – PAKATAN REPEATING GE13 MISTAKES IN S’WAK

The new Pakatan Harapan seems set to repeat the very same mistakes that took place in the last general election, though this time the coalition cannot blame it on PAS.
Reported in the news over the weekend, both DAP and PKR are expecting to clash against one another in five state seats come May 7 — Tasik Biru, Mambong, Simanggang, Bukit Semuja and Mulu.
Adding to this, the PKR is avoiding any seats contested by PAS, the very member it kicked out of Pakatan Harapan to favour Amanah.
Thus, the first question to raise is simply what is going on?
Does the PKR still have ties with PAS that it will not deny, much to the criticism of its allies in the new alliance? This question has been raised before with the continuing members of the Islamist party still serving as part of the Selangor government.
Secondly, why are PKR and DAP contesting against one another?
While it is true that both Sabah and Sarawak are not the same as the politics we have here in the peninsula, it is still a necessity for the three parties — DAP, PKR and Amanah — to strategise and show a united front for both states and federal levels.
This is contrary to what is happening in Sarawak right now.
Historically, the Sarawak Pakatan Rakyat was the first blown to smithereens compared with that on the peninsula, when the state DAP chapter decided that PAS was deviating from the common framework the three Opposition parties set up.
A three-way split in votes — two in favour of the individual opposition parties — could sabotage the win for the pro-government parties.
To have PKR and DAP butting heads now, brings back the memories of how the contests for seats during the last General Election showed the questioning public whether there was a problem between the then Pakatan Rakyat allies.
It shows us watching that perhaps the concept of an alliance is not exactly gelling as well as anyone hoped for the national opposition parties.
And we cannot exactly call these “teething problems” because they’ve practically coexisted for two general elections (somewhat) — a decade already and tripartite ties have existed even before that under the Barisan Alternatif dating back to 1999.
Thus, perhaps it would be good for everyone for the Pakatan Harapan to come out and explain just what is going on in Sarawak as a united front. Because right now, it truly reads that there is perhaps a different concept of unity coming out from each party.
It is a necessary question to ponder right now, especially with a general election coming up in two years and we may see such shenanigans come up again. Till then, these questions need to be answered.
Even with a common framework, is there a common organisation structure among DAP, PKR and Amanah for Pakatan Harapan?
Will they be looking towards introducing such a common framework in the future, in order to come up with a proper shadow cabinet now, or even next year, or even ever?
Will Pakatan Harapan be ensuring that there will be no seat clashes among themselves for seats contested on either state or parliamentary seats in the future, or will we see the same issue raised again in Terengganu and Penang — which was what happened in 2013?
These three questions are important in order to ensure that the path towards a Pakatan victory come 2018 is even possible, to remove the excuses questioning their ability to govern (still no shadow cabinet till now) on a federal level or even to not cause petty power struggle issues to cause the loss of entire states.
And no, you can’t use the governance of one state to compare running an entire country, dream what you may.
Simply put, regardless how poorly Najib does, until there is a proper, united coalition by the Opposition parties, they may continue to dream of remaining with that label for another decade — harsh as that is. 

A supplementary budget in March?!

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Spring is in the air, and our government is already asking parliament for more money!

In a rather weird moment, Putrajaya is now asking Parliament for more money via a supplementary bill for RM3.3 billion. This brings the amount of cash being allocated for 2016 to a whopping RM270 billion – within three months of the new year.

Continue reading “A supplementary budget in March?!”

Gag the Cabinet for confusing everyone?

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It is oftentimes said that one of the reasons given in censoring films, books and even news portals is the fact that these elements can “confuse” Malaysians. For some reason or another, it seems that telling Malaysians that heuristic logics of merely yes or no being insufficient is considered a crime. Continue reading “Gag the Cabinet for confusing everyone?”