The Great Malaysian Brain Drain

(This post was originally featured at KCLau.com)

Many people including I have written about this subject before, but our Government just ignored what we said about the long term ill effect of losing our best talent. Now the orang puteh of the World Bank has highlighted this, perhaps the Government will listen more attentively.
Let me give you a real example to show you why a clever Chinese boy would be forced to go to Singapore if I did not give him a scholarship.

Andrew Tan scored 10 A1s in his SPM in 2006. His mother is a primary school teacher and Andrew has two younger brothers. His father, a civil servant, died just before he sat for his SPM.

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Armed with his excellent result, Andrew applied for a scholarship to study mechanical engineering. The government rejected his application. Petronas rejected his application too. Can you imagine how disappointed and frustrated he was?

As soon as I learned of Andrew’s difficulty, I offered him financial assistance to do accountancy in Utar. He has been scoring top marks in every exam to earn a scholarship from the university. Although Andrew was exempted from paying fees, I still bank him RM700 a month to cover his cost of living. He graduated a few months ago with first class honours.

Asean (mainly Malaysian!) Scholarships: Our Brains, Their Gain

Singapore welcomes clever students like Andrew who are desperately looking for a chance to have a higher education. The pre-university Asean scholarship extended to Malaysians by ‘the little red dot’ Singapore offers the cost of school and exam fees, hostel accommodation, RM5,800 a year for expenses, RM1,200 settling-in allowance, and transport/air ticket.

Furthermore, the recipient is not bonded. Or in other words, the giver asks for nothing back.

Of course, Singapore is not doing it for purely altruistic reasons. The country is giving these much coveted Asean scholarships to build up her national bank of talent. Some Malaysians accuse them of ‘poaching’ the creme de la creme of our youngsters. I don’t look at it as poaching.

Their far-sighted government is doing it in their national interest.
And why not? Singapore can afford it. It has three times our GDP per capita. On another comparative note, the GDP per capita of Taiwan and South Korea are 2.5 times and double ours respectively. Before the NEP’s introduction in 1970, the four countries were at parity.

The big question is why are we surrendering our assets which Malaysian parents have nurtured but the state neglected? As parents, we know how difficult it is to bring up children and train them to score top marks in school. Yet our country does not want them.

Tens of thousands of young Malaysians have left our shores on the Asean scholarship. I am not sure if Singapore is willing to give out the figure. But I am pretty sure the Malaysian Authorities do not give two hoots about this, whatever number they may have arrived at. If they have, there seems to be no policy change to stem the outflow.

Our statistics clearly show that a large number of Chinese and Indians, mostly with tertiary education immigrated and replaced by a larger number of mostly illiterate foreign workers. Is this the best way to become a developed nation like Singapore?

Behaving Like a Failed State

Consider this startling statistic: There are more Sierra Leonean doctors working in hospitals in the city of Chicago than in their own homeland. More Malawian nurses in Manchester than in Malawi. Africa’s most significant export to Europe and the United States is trained professionals, not petroleum, gold and diamond.

The educated African migration is definitely retarding the progress of every country in Africa. Today, one in three African university graduates, and 50,000 doctoral holders now live and work outside Africa. Sixty-four percent of Nigerians in the USA has one or more university degrees.

If we carry out a study, we are likely to find a very large number of non-Malay graduates emigrating to Singapore, Australia and other countries that is proportionately similar to the African exodus. However the compulsion is different, seeing as how some African countries are war-torn and famished which is certainly not the case. The push factors for our own brain drain lie in NEP policy and this needs to be addressed with urgency

State Ideology: Be Grateful You Are Malaysian

Try putting yourself in the shoes of an 18-year-old. This young Malaysian born in 1991 is told that Umno was very generous in granting citizenship to his non-Malay forefathers in 1957. Thus as a descendant of an immigrant community – one should be forever grateful and respect the ‘social contract’.

Gratitude is demanded by the state while little is reciprocated. Under the NEP – and some say this policy represents the de facto social contract – every single Vice Chancellor of every single Malaysian public university is Malay. Promotion prospects for non-Malay lecturers to full professorship or head of department are very dim, hence we have the dichotomy of non-Malays predominant in private colleges while correspondingly, the academic staff of public institutions proliferate with Malays.

The civil service is staffed predominantly by Malays too, and overwhelmingly in the top echelons. The government-linked corporations have been turned into a single race monopoly. Hence is it any surprise that almost all the scholarships offered by government and GLCs seem to be reserved for Malays?

Youngsters from the minority communities see that Malays are the chosen ones regardless of their scholastic achievement and financial position. Some are offered to do a Master even though they did not even apply (but the quota is there to be filled, so these disinterested Malays are approached).

Conclusion: Ensuring Fairness For the Future Well Being of Our Young

A segment of Johoreans cross the Causeway daily to attend school in Singapore. Many continue their tertiary education in Singapore which has among the top universities in the world. Eventually, they work in Singapore and benefit Singapore.

Ask around among your friends and see who hasn’t got a child or a sibling who is now living abroad as a permanent resident. I can’t really blame them for packing up and packing it in, can you? It’s simply critical now that we don’t let our kids lose hope and throw in the towel. The system might be slower to reform but mindsets at least can be changed easier.

It starts with the teachers, the educationists and the people running the education departments and implementing the policies. Please help Malaysian youngsters realise their full potential. Just try a little fairness first.

Personal Note:
Readers may be interested to know that I have five children all of whom are accomplished in their respective fields. Four of them are part of the brain drain and have chosen to settle down abroad; only one is back in Malaysia.

My son who has double degrees in civil engineering and chartered accountancy is an investor in Canada. He could be here to create hundreds of jobs to enrich Malaysia but he has been so disgusted with our policies and their implementation that he has chosen not to return.

I am sure that there are tens, if not hundreds of thousands of similar young Malaysians that our country has lost, no thanks to our short-sighted educational policies. And yet the Government is so keen to attract foreign investors. Where is the logic and rationality?

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