Saturday, April 30, 2011

I'm a Scholar...

Get Me Out of Here!

Scholarships. Where one applies for financial support for one’s education and which usually comes with some sort of a compulsory service bond after successful completion of studies. Once the scholarship is granted, you spend the next 3 to 5 years studying (mostly) ((alrite, when you have the time)).


I once had the privilege of being in the company of some brilliant scholars from various organisations who wanted my legal advice on a matter very dear to (their) heart. The idea was to present to the powers that be that brilliant scholars should not be bound by compulsory service bonds, because the organisations that gave them the scholarships are not in a position to give them jobs that make the best use of their intelligence and capabilities.

Nicely put, but…

“Wasn’t it clear when we signed the scholarship agreement that we would have to serve a bond?”

“Well, we were young then, not yet even 18, and didn’t know that we were signing our lives away.”


“If you want to leave, just repay the amount spent on you, it’s quite easy really.”

“It’s a lot of money; they should let us go and consider it national service.”

Haha! Of course! Getting much sought after scholarships then being let off from the service bond so that one can make much more money elsewhere is national service.

Admittedly, there is a lot left to be desired on how the various organisations make use of these bright talents. But this is certainly not the solution - seeking to run away playing victim is quite pathetic actually. Quite likely they will continue to use the same solution for the rest of their lives when faced with similar situations.


Many high school graduates are now going through some form of scholarship application process, with assessments and interviews to face. At the end of it all, and I’m talking about 4 to 5 years down the road, remember your obligations. If for any reason you don’t want to serve your compulsory service bond, make sure you pay back the scholarship amount. There’s no shame in breaking your bond if you intend to pay it off. If you don’t want to be tied down to any organisation and don’t see yourself paying back the amount spent on you, then don’t take that scholarship which comes with a bond, please.

On the other hand, not getting a scholarship is difficult to accept especially when you feel you fully deserve it. It’s tough, and it takes a big person to accept it, and move on. But there seems to be a certain trend emerging, going somewhat like this:

You feel you deserve a scholarship and you get it – therefore the system works and you laud it.

You feel you deserve a scholarship and you don’t get it – therefore the system doesn’t work and you attack it.

I know I am generalising, but it is a dangerous mindset. I’ll tell you why, using a different setting but conveying the message nevertheless.

I came across once in a business context someone who said that I should do all I can to help his company secure a contract to “help the community”.

Most organisations are in business to make money. If I were to have my own business, that would be my aim as well. I was piqued to ask how is it that helping his company secure that contract translated to helping the community, as the profits would only accrue to his company and eventually line his pockets. The community may need ‘help’, but you are certainly not the conduit. I got an earful from the titled gentleman when I told him I couldn’t do anything to help his outfit.

I have seen many who did not get the scholarship they feel they deserved, or were not successful in getting contracts that some would argue they should get to ‘help’, eventually thrive in whatever it is they do. They are able to go beyond the entitlement mentality – because whether it’s securing a scholarship or making profits, how we go about doing it is a measure of the people we are.


Anonymous said...

“Well, we were young then, not yet even 18, and didn’t know that we were signing our lives away.”

Strong words, but sponsors don't exactly go out of their way to present the realities.

Being a former recruiter to these scholarhips, the kids are KPIs that I must meet. Their future happiness, or job fit or culture fit into the company is not an immediate concern.

Had we introduced the prospective scholars to the working scholars before they signed their agreements, perhaps their expectations could have been better managed.

A pool of naive idealism on one end, and cynical bitterness on the other. That would have been interesting :)

Idaman said...

It is interesting because it has been started over here, for the past couple of years. Though it's for those who have already been recruited.

Here's looking to better managed expectations :)

izreen - fluff and stuff - said...

in my case, i was only 15 when i "signed off my life" :O and yes, i did feel "cheated" in a way (although ignorance will not hold as a defense in court!) i could very well be one of the brilliant scholars you mentioned (terasa a bit la as i'm pretty sure i approached you for legal consult several times during my bond heheh).

cheated or not, it is true that nothing in life is free and that applies to our very ivy-league education, with the "payment" being a bond of x number of years. tit for tat, eh?

the problem i believe lies in both the scholar and the company. whilst the scholar should be appreciative of the company's sponsorship, i feel many companies neglect to develop the scholars to their full potential.

it is sad when both parties fail to manage each other's expectations. the company's being that it is time for repayment for all that the company has invested (some what like the ah longs); the scholar's being that after having been exposed to top-notch education, they yearn for a different type of work culture & lifestyle.

i'm not saying there is a straight forward way to manage these no hr expert but perhaps this is something the company should look into as constructive feedback and a way to move forward.

as for meeting working scholars, we did meet the seniors as you may recall those many many many years ago in klgcc but honestly, what did we know of company culture back then?

then there are companies like shell...they actually interview the scholars just as they would any other job applicant and if the scholars don't make the cut, they aren't employed; the bond that binds is no more. at least that way, neither party can play victim when the "relationship" falls out. so the employment is a well-deserved achievement as opposed to forced.

having said that, there are a few like you who have done really well and that my old friend, is admirable. as for me? know me. i moaned and i groaned and well...i stayed on waaaay past my bond of 7 years. i'm still in awe that i did and it was not easy to leave a 15 year relationship that spanned throughout my a-levels, undergrad, masters and all of my working life....half my life, really.

i made lemonade out of lemons. sadly though, the lemonade was more sour than it was sweet; my biggest fear when i entered sime, really did become my reality when i left. but alas, that is a different story altogether ;)

Idaman said...

We did speak a few times and it was mostly on how much an exit would cost and if it was affordable. When it wasn't, we discussed how to make the most of what we had...

Rest assured this piece is not in reference to you or our discussions.

You knew what your obligations were and did not seek to run away from them, despite the ride being as rough as the one you experienced. That is admirable :-)

Having clarified that, I completely agree with what you have said.