Friday, May 02, 2008

They are smart, help them!

I don't get this Jakarta Post headline: Olympiad winning needs gov't support. And a quote: "I have written to the President and the education minister, calling on them to grant gold medal winners full scholarships at the world's best universities, such as Harvard, Massachusetts Institute of Technology or Princeton"


If the government needs to help after all, they should do it for the unfortunate less smart students who struggle with math, physics, liberal arts, economics, whatever. Not for those world calibre students, because the Ivy League surely would love to accept and grant them scholarship (They are genius, aren't they?).

Unless those top universities don't recognize such award contests.


  1. Rizal:
    Go beyond the headline and read the rest of the article.

  2. i totally agree. science olympiads are ironically pretty stupid.

  3. Rizal:
    The tag here is "spoonfed mechanism" but I think it's not at all about that. It's about investment choice.

    Without government support, they might be able to access scholarships from other sources (or they may not). But per the article, with a government scholarship, you can bring them back more easily.

    Now, if growth is primarily driven by technological progress, isn't this a worthwhile investment?

  4. Arya, say, you want to invest in return for them going back to Indonesia after getting a PhD from MIT, and contribute the lion's share of the country's technological progress rate.

    Two things: the expected return abovementioned needs to be adjusted with its risk --that is, those geniuses flee to Wall Street or Silicon Valley--which is very big.

    Second, you can still beat such risk by giving more (money) incentive, if the budget allows. Probem is: does it? Or, should it comes before food subsidy, teacher's salary, etc.

    Bottom line: I am even not convinced that the (expected) marginal social benefit justify the marginal cost of granting them full scholarship, all things considered.

  5. rizal: all things the same (risk of fleeing, etc), i'd say govt scholarships would create more pressure for them going back home. after all, you can easily put up some penalty scheme for deserters.

    so the key question here concerns your bottom line statement: what data would you use to weigh the social benefit against the investment cost?

  6. Rizal
    Does Fulbright qualify as an example of a "spoonfed mentality"-type of scholarship? After all, the committee finds promising young people and fund them, and expects them to go back (among others, by granting J-visa instead of an F-visa to "force" graduates to go back after graduation).

    How is this different? After all, we can ask the government to request that, instead of using it to finance graduate students, convert the Fulbright program to finance teacher salary.

  7. Tirta, yes, it's an empirical question. If I am not wrong, my friend Akhmad Bayhaqi was doing a research measuring the private and social benefit of higher education. So there should be some methods to get the number.

    Meanwhile it is worth to recall that the cost of granting them full scholarship needs to include its opportunity cost, that is, the return of best alternative option the money could be spent for.

    Arya, on Fulbright, I suspect that's a good investment for US government, that happens to be able to afford it.

    Spoonfed mentality refers that you set the term and conditionality, and insist other to help you out based on that your self-declared term. If you don't set your term, it's not. You don't ask for privilege, you compete with others to meet their term and win the limited seat (with a little bit or a lot of luck).

    If our government find asking the US government to finance teacher's salary is more socially beneficial than Fulbright program, why not? Whether the US gov't find it profitable for their side is another story.

  8. Rizal:
    Ah, so let's formulate the proposed government scholarship as: "You will receive scholarship if and only if you receive a gold medal at the science olympics". Now, is this still a "spoonfed mentality"-type of scholarship? Or are you just splitting hair? ;-)

    Agree on the opportunity cost: It's an empirical question. However, I think for advanced studies, there might be a time lag before the return to education can be realized.

  9. Just to be a completist: On the other hand, I can imagine the first time Fulbright was proposed, somebody in the Indonesian Ministry of Foreign Affairs wrote to the US Secretary of State to call on them to grant young bright, young, Indonesian graduates full scholarships at US universities. Now, under your definition, doesn't this sounds like an example of a spoonfed mentality? ;-)

  10. Arya, with the risk of being dubbed as Fulbright cheerleader, I would say maybe not :-)

    I imagine the letter read: we have some potential candidates that might qualify your Fulbright requirement. We would be glad if you can extend the program to our country because we believe that it would benefit our country and your country.

  11. Contoh program beasiswa bagi siswa-siswa SMU jenius sudah pernah dilakukan pada era ketika B.J. Habibie menjabat sebagai Menristek. Dengan program STAID dan OFP yang dananya berasal dari pinjaman Bank Dunia, anak-anak high calibre tersebut bisa langsung sekolah di LN mulai dari undergraduate bahkan hingga PhD di berbagai universitas top di dunia. Setelah selesai, banyak juga yang tak pulang lagi ke Indonesia dan langsung bekerja di LN. Oh ya, sebelum mereka diberangkatkan untuk sekolah, mereka sudah punya status sebagai PNS dengan ijazah SMU yakni golongan II/a. Nah, banyak juga dari mereka yang mestinya mengabdikan diri di BPPT dan LIPI setelah menggondol PhD, malah kabur kerja di LN. Kalaupun ada yang pulang, mana tahan mereka dengan gaji PNS yang berpuluh-puluh kali lipat kecilnya dibandingkan dengan bekerja di Boeing,misalnya. Juga, kalaupun pulang, di Indonesia tak ada peralatan or lab yang sesuai dengan apa yang biasa mereka kerjakan dan peroleh di MIT, misalnya. Di Indonesia tak butuh orang pintar. Cukup seperti Soetrisno Bachir yang kini "Hidup adalah beriklan" dan pengen jadi presiden. Biar otak Harvard sekali pun kalau bukan keponakan atau anaknya Gus Dur, Megawati, dll, cukup gigit jari saja. Kasihan dech loe...