AS the postponement in payment for National Higher Education Fund Corporation (PTPTN) is coming to an end, the Ministry of Higher Education (MOHE) with relevant agencies and ministries should now consider the third moratorium for this study loan.
To recap, the first moratorium on payment of PTPTN was carried out from April to September of this year. It was later extended from October to December 2020.
Perhaps, given the current sombre economic condition, the Government might want to extend the moratorium for PTPTN borrowers for another six months, from January to Jun 2021.
However, as a means to ensure financial sustainability for PTPTN in the long run, possibly another round of moratoriums should be targeted only at those who were being retrenched, experienced a severe loss in income, particularly the B40 category or fresh graduates who are still unemployed.
On top of that, although a great deal of aid has been channelled via Budget 2021 to help the people cope with the extreme economic catastrophe, there is, however, a lack of allocation for university students in the budget.
Perhaps, since this group is seen as only responsible for seeking knowledge at their respective universities and generally not in any of the specific groups at risk, people might be thinking they are doing okay – financially and emotionally.
However, this perception is just partially accurate, as they are actually like the others, who are crucially affected at their core – with onsite classes being moved online, semesters being postponed, examinations being adjusted, unable to do their part-time job and so on.
Quoting from the findings of EMIR Research 3Q 2020 Focus Group Discussion (FGD), some discussants pointed out that they need to do part-time jobs during their degree study to survive the high cost of living in Malaysia.
However, with the current situation, they are dealing with extra repercussions as they are now unable to do the part-time job anymore, as a means to commit to their daily expenses.
Due to this, many are hoping for the Government’s financial assistance since they live on tight budgets now but were very disappointed to find that students are not eligible to receive Bantuan Prihatin Rakyat under Budget 2021.
While some might think that these students may have parents to fund them during this crisis, think again – as some of the parents’ incomes are also reduced or even lost entirely.
Previously during the Budget 2021 tabling, the Malaysian government confirmed that there would be RM50 eWallet credits given to youths as part of the eBelia program.
However, it is good to know that the credit initiative has been doubled from RM50 to RM100 in the revised budget during the budget vote at the policy stage on Nov 26, 2020 after considering the feedback received from various sources, according to Finance Minister Tengku Zafrul Aziz.
This change would indeed assist the students in higher learning institutions as they also need extra cash to sail through the storm of COVID-19.
Next, in an effort to address unequal access to online education, under Budget 2021, the Government will work with Bank Simpanan Nasional for a laptop loan scheme to enable university students who are PTPTN borrowers to carry out online learning.
However, how about the students who are not PTPTN borrowers – who opt for other education loans? Helping them is also crucial, as some of them come from B40 families.
Thus, the Government might want to introduce an electronic device subsidy to aid the underprivileged students in purchasing the needed gadgets like laptops and printers.
Under this subsidy program, the government could perhaps subsidise 70% while students only have to pay 30% of the electronic device’s total cost.
Last but not least, policymakers should allow university management the leeway they need to adapt to the changing contexts of the pandemic.
Universities should have full autonomy in making academic decisions instead of following a one-size-fits-all approach set by the relevant authorities – since different universities opt for different strategies to manage their institutions.
Also, there is an immediate need to reconsider the total fees levied on students for the upcoming semesters if online learning would be still taking place.
Perhaps, they can retain the university fees but reduce the charge for facilities since most students will not be on campus to use them.
If let say, the universities have no intention of reducing the fees; they could instead provide facilities of equal monetary worth, such as paying for high-speed internet for students learning at home. Then, it would be a win-win situation for both parties.
Indeed, while online learning is already hard enough for them due to the pandemic, a great deal of help and efforts is crucially needed to help them sail through the storm too.
Afifah Suhaimi is Research Assistant at EMIR Research, an independent think tank focused on strategic policy recommendations based on rigorous research.