Punishing new student loan borrowers for the sins of their predecessors

Punishing new borrowers for the “sins” committed by their predecessors is akin to punishing a child for the crime committed by his father….unfortunately that’s what PTPTN is doing to new student loan borrowers.

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.


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 FocusweekThe cover picture was an image taken from the front cover of Nov 12, 2014 edition of Focusweek.

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Multitasking, smartphone and easy distractibility

As supervisors, managers or bosses if we expect our staff to multitask, we should be prepared for our staff’s inability to perform with 100% efficiency and effectiveness. Instead fast-switching between tasks should be encouraged.

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Commentary (Apr 20.2018)

I contributed this article entitled, “Multitasking bad for work efficiency” to Focus Malaysia when I was working for HCK Capital Group Bhd. . The article was published under my moniker of  “Plantcloner”. At that time my son was a student of SEGi University  and we shared a ride in my car on each working day.

Observing multitasking by a “pretty young thing”

My son passed his driving test a few months back, but he lacks confidence in handling Klang Valley’s road and whenever I have the chance, I would be his “driving instructor” and let him drive. A few days back when I was being “chauffeured” home I noticed a pretty young thing (PYT) driving beside my car (but slightly behind) but she did not seem to pay any attention when my son indicated to join her lane on the highway. As it was the rush hour on New Klang Valley Expressway, the traffic was bumper to bumper. It gave me a chance to observe (and tried to find out) why the PYT was not paying attention to my son’s signal: she was talking on the mobile phone! As my car and PYT’s car were side by side for over 5 km, it gave me more opportunities to observe the PYT further. After finishing her mobile phone conversation, the PYT went on to send some text messages or instant messages on her mobile phone, then a few minutes later, she whipped out a makeup box with a mirror and went on to apply something on her face. All the while we were travelling at about 25 km/h in parallel! I guess the PYT was just multitasking. Luckily for my son and I (and for the PYT), she was a better driver than my son and no untoward incident occurred.

You’re dumber when multitasking!

I have read Joe Kraus’s blog posting on multitasking and watched his TED Talk video entitled, “Slow Tech” . This was what Kraus said about multitasking: “It’s shown not only that we’re dumber when we do this (an average of 10 IQ points dumber……), but that we’re also 40% less efficient at whatever it is we’re doing.” This probably sums up why multitasking is bad for your work efficiency or whatever you intend to do.

A few weeks ago I  completed the Massive Open Online Course entitled “Understanding media by understanding Google” by veteran journalist and Knight Chair in Digital Media Strategy of Northwestern University, Professor Owen Youngman. One of the written assignments asked, “If someone instinctively and repeatedly picks up a mobile device to consume media while engaged in another activity, which of the following do you believe is more likely to be true of that person: (1) he/she is engaged & seeking to enhance and deepen the first activity or (2) he/she is bored & is seeking to be distracted from the first activity?”  How often have you encountered colleagues (or even yourself) in a formal meeting doing just that: whipping out the smartphone and checking for emails, SMS, BBM, Twitter etc. every now and again? Is this multitasking or it this easy distraction? Is the person bored? In most cases, I think the person was forced to multitask. Sound familiar?

Demand of modern days for multitasking?

With the current “24 by 7” business operating environment, clients and colleagues across continents and many time zones have the expectation of having their needs taken care of & queries answered instantly. Thus it is inevitable that disruption and distractions from these sources via the smartphone happen during all hours of the day and nights. It seems that the 8-hours working day has now been, with the “always-on-always-connected” mobile internet, replaced by the 18-hours working day (with 6 hours left for sleep). I really enjoyed my stint working with Pearson plc where my British boss would not dared to call me after work and during public holidays. It could have been the Britishness in him but I guess the man was worried that if he were to call me, I would reciprocate when he would be on his holidays sunning himself in some beach with his family!

I think as a superior you should not demand that regardless of the hour of the day/night or the staff’s current situation, he/she must answer your text messages, emails etc. within 30 minutes or some tight timeframe. Despite the disruptions and distractions involved, your staff will have no choice but to check up on his/her smartphone periodically watching out for text messages, instant messages, Blackberry Messages, Tweets etc. from you and multitask. [Note: this piece was written long before the “Right to disconnect” issue made it to the fore!]

Fast switching vs multitasking

The best thing to do, it seems, is not engage in multitasking at all, which is just fast switching between tasks. You are spreading your mental capacity and attention too thinly. If you look at a juggler, he/she can juggle 3, 4 or even 5 items at most. But in today’s work environment, most staff are expected to juggle many more tasks than 5, with some staff ended up not “catching” any single item. I think bosses should recognise the peril of multitasking. Like the PYT, if she were to multitask more strenuously while driving, she might end up causing a car accident!

I think we cannot change the current work and business environment in light of the advance in technology. The best for one to do is to prioritise and perhaps do what I call “semi-multitasking”. You should have all the tasks in a prioritized list, instead of working your way down the list,  you should go on to commence work on every task in the list but paying more attention in accordance to the priority and importance of the task. In this way, you will have made at least a start in each task assigned and have a better chance of completing each with maybe not 100% but at least close to 80 or 90% efficiency . I think your IQ dip for each task will be much less than 10 points! It is also good to separate routine multitasks from ad hoc tasks because routine tasks usually have tighter deadlines. If possible enlist the help of and encourage ownership of tasks by your staff and you may find that your collective efficiency and IQ go up significantly.

Hilarious consequences of multitasking too much

There is a current TV advertisement about a secretary having to multitask, she needed to arrange for a parcel to be sent and to book a flight for her boss both at the same time. She ended up sending the parcel by business-class flight and the boss on a tin-pot airline flying with chicken in the plane. That sums up the peril of multitasking! I think as supervisors, managers or bosses if we expect our staff to multitask, we should be prepared for our staff’s inability to perform with 100% efficiency and effectiveness.


This is the unedited version of my original piece. I usually have to juggle more than 5 tasks in any working day. With “semi-multitasking” I managed to minimise “accidents” and still achieve a reasonable efficiency & effectiveness in the tasks I accomplished.