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Friday, September 29, 2006

Someone on Scholarships

> Anyhow the term "scholarship" is misleading. It's a business contract
> pure and simple, despite all the moral overtone those who award them
> try to pile on.

That's exactly right, and it's something which even the scholarship-awarding bodies seem to have genuinely forgotten. They wonder why so many break their bonds and never think that trying to 'trap' people into a job where they aren't really challenged and have far lower compensation than they could get in the private sector simply doesn't make sense. If the civil service really wanted to attract talent, they could significantly streamline their scholarship scheme so that it acts more like a bursary scheme and then significantly increase the pay of civil servants from day one. They should also do away with this ridiculous admin officer scheme -- there's no reason why a select few on some special scheme should be paid very handsomely while the rest of the civil service is paid (comparatively) very poorly. Even scholars know that they won't necessarily get into the admin service, so the mere prospect of large pay packets in the admin service alone may not offset the opportunity cost they run by foregoing lucrative jobs elsewhere, since the risk remains that they will be stuck in the non-admin service track.

If you think of the UK, for example, civil servants are well paid from day one (I'm talking about graduate civil servants). Of course civil servants will be paid less than bankers or city lawyers, but it isn't a ridiculous pay differential. Moreover, there isn't an admin service (although there is a fast track for some graduates) -- you can get promoted quickly, and therefore earn some serious money (civil servants were ranked only slightly below doctors in pay in the UK last year) but it doesn't depend on some retarded one-off ticket into some special scheme. It is completely possible that a non-fast track graduate in the UK civil service will later overtake a fast track graduate (and anyway the non-fast track graduate is paid quite well as it is) while in Singapore a non-admin officer will forever languish below an admin officer.

It appears to me that the Singapore civil service and govt agencies think that the best way of securing talent is by offering a plush scholarship when potential applicants are literally young and stupid, and then trap them into the job for six years. They then wonder why scholars are poorly motivated, many break their bonds, and why some turn out not to have been that great anyway. (Not to mention the huge amount of resentment created among NON-scholars in the civil service). Moreover, the low pay in the civil service discourages potentially interested applicants who have spent lots of their own money on the their education from joining the civil service.

Chris's idea is interesting, but I would suggest also post-graduation debt forgiveness (i.e. students are allowed to take loans to fund their education at reasonable rates, and then they have this debt forgiven if they take up a contract at the end of their studies), or large sign-on bonuses.