On November 6, 2014, I received a phone call from David Lee, Editor-in-Chief of Focusweek, the sister publication of Focus Malaysia around noon. David was keen to have a full article written on the announcement made by the National Higher Education Fund Corporation (PTPTN) a day earlier where it had reduced the amount of loan that new borrowers would be getting from November 1st, 2014. Students from private institutions of higher learning will be hardest hit with a massive reduction of 15% in the maximum loan quantum, their public institutions of higher learning counterparts got a 5% corresponding reduction. The mean-testing criteria were further tightened so that only borrowers from low income families would stand to get the full loan.

I was very honoured by this request, but there was one caveat: I needed to get the story written and submitted by lunchtime the next Monday, November 11,2014. This gave me about 5 days to do the job. Luckily for me, being a avid follower of the PTPTN saga, I had in my “collections” a great deal of press articles and other data that would allow me to start the job. But I still had to do a lot of desk research and getting the relevant data was the most time-consuming.

Working frantically for the next few days and with the editorial inputs from David and his team, we managed to get this front cover story on the November 15, 2014 edition of Focusweek completed. The followings is an excerpt of the full article that was carried in Theantdaily.com on December 8, 2014.

The full article also covered the unfairness of reducing 3 times higher the reduction in maximum loan (at 15%) for borrowers in private institutions of higher learning compared to their counterparts in public institutions. Since the private and public institutions cater for just about equal number of students, why the heavier “punishment” on the private sector. What I could not find was the data from PTPTN which show who are the main loan defaulters. If the majority are from the private institutions then PTPTN might have justifications for the more severe treatment, but personally, I doubt this is the reason. I also covered the implications on the 15% maximum loan reduction on the private college and universities enrollments where I think those institutions struggling financially will see these austerity measures hitting them hardest. I think a further round of consolidation of the private higher education industry is going to take place in the next few months when the impact of this loan reduction is felt on the new students.

My key quotable quote: Punishing new borrowers for the “sins” committed by their predecessors is akin to punishing a child for the crime committed by his father.

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PTPTN punishing the wrong people

PETALING JAYA: The dire predictions have come to pass. Less than three months ago, The Heat newsweekly wrote of a looming student loan crisis at the National Higher Education Fund Corporation, marked by an almost RM50 billion outstanding student loan account and an alarmingly high level of graduate joblessness or underemployment.

The report referred to the situation as a “ticking financial time bomb” and ques­tioned whether the PTPTN (the Bahasa ac­ronym for the corporation) could continue to use kid gloves on the defaulters.

The warnings seem to have been heeded, although it’s far too late. On Nov 5, PTPTN chairman Datuk Shamsul Anuar Nasarah announced a measure that was once rejected by the Cabinet – listing loan defaulters in the Central Credit Reference Information System (CCRIS).

The first stage would involve 173,985 borrowers who had not started financing their loans totalling RM1.23 billion, three years after graduating. Other defaulters will follow in succeeding stages. Being listed under CCRIS would affect the borrowers’ credit worthiness and make it difficult for them to get bank loans.

While this falls within the ambit of nat­ural justice, another announcement by the PTPTN has fast turned into an unpopular decision that invites controversy.

This has to do with the decision to tighten the eligibility criteria for borrowers and to reduce the loan percentage by 5% and 15% for borrowers from the public institutions of higher learning (IPTA in Bahasa) and private institutions of higher learning (IPTS) respectively.

Only borrowers whose families are receiving government handout in the form of 1Malaysia People’s Aid or BR1M would be eligible for 95% PTPTN loan. Borrowers coming from families which do not qualify for BR1M and with household income of below RM8,000 would be eligible for 75% PTPTN loan while those whose families earn more than RM8,000 will only be eligible for 50% PTPTN loan.

It was reported that 558,475 PTPTN borrowers did not make a single instalment payment, causing their collective debt to balloon to RM4.3 billion. Although the PTPTN is putting 173,985 of them into CCRIS, one wonders why the rest can’t be made to face the same fate as well. It is crucial to cast the net far and wide, to generate a payment schedule that would keep the fund afloat.

Other decisions taken beg some thought. The government has decided to convert the PTPTN loans of high achievers who scored first class honour degrees to scholarships and this would benefit 22,150 borrowers as at end September at a cost of RM603.1 million.

This is an excerpt of an article first published in the Nov 15, 2014 issue of Focusweek. The cover picture was an image taken from the front cover of Nov 12, 2014 edition of Focusweek.

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