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Should Brunei Punish its ‘Runaway’ Scholars?

Brunei students during a convocation. Photo from Flickr of Aidityafunda (CC BY 2.0)

Brunei students during a convocation. Photo from Flickr of Aidityafunda (CC BY 2.0)

Brunei is preparing legal action against government bonded scholars who have refused to come home after completing their studies abroad. Reports indicate that 12 doctors will be charged for failure to comply with their scholarship condition. Last year, the government said that 20 doctors and other medical specialists didn’t return to Brunei after finishing their training. A government minister has asked these ‘runaway’ scholars to fulfill their obligation in contributing to the national development.

The issue has sparked an intense discussion about Brunei’s education system, scholarship process, and state of economy.

Writer Shareen Han has raised several points about the deficiencies of the scholarship system:

We don't know the reason(s) these bonded scholars did not return to the country, but many were quick to condemn their actions.

…it tells us that there are inherent flaws in Brunei's system of awarding scholarships.

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.

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?

mujahidjohar urged others to understand the reasons of the young scholars who didn’t come home:

People overlook the fact that going abroad to study for a few years forces many people to reevaluate their opinions, biases, and worldview

They learn that the government shouldn't be immune to criticism, that seniority doesn't always equal competence, and some societal problems will not be handled in their lifetimes. Then they hear tales of low salaries, lack of career development options and professional satisfaction.

We need to investigate without prior judgment as to why these people flee before we punish their families who are in Brunei.

Introducing a loan component in the program could address the problem, according to Hakeem Hameed Affandy

I would suggest the government to introduce higher education loan in their scholarship scheme (half loan, half scholarship). So people who are qualified to get scholarship but don't want the government bond they can loan the money instead.

Tan Wei Lun blames lack of career opportunities in the country:

Inefficiency in the government workplace deters scholars. I've known engineering scholars come back without jobs, they're teaching math and physics in high school right now. Lack of professional pathways and advancements are also a reason.

Khairunnisa Ash'ari insists that ‘runaway’ scholars should repay the government:

I don't have any real opinion on this, but somehow allowing people to escape their contracts without any repercussions doesn't sound like a good thing either. It further encourages the mentality of not being accountable, etc. Also it would encourage more people to do the same thus leading to a brain drain in the country.

Honestly though if they don't want to honour the contract by not going back, they should at least repay back the amount they have taken, which would have gone to another individual who would eventually contribute back to the country.

Getting a scholarship in Brunei is quite difficult. Iffah Muzri elaborates:

…it’s an all-out battle trying to get the top position in school, fighting tooth and nail just to be able to qualify to even be considered to apply for a scholarship. What happens to those that didn’t get a scholarship, that couldn’t afford to be sent to universities…

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