Tok Kin Woon is pessimistic about the latest initiative to draw talent back to the country. The reasons for the human resource flight are racial discrimination; the lack of open, democratic space; and the declining quality of education here.
In the recently launched 10th Malaysia Plan (2011-2015) and before that, the New Economic Model, the Federal Government acknowledged the seriousness of human capital flight from Malaysia.
It further admitted that unless this drain of talent, skills, knowledge, creativity and innovativeness from our country to others is arrested and reversed, Malaysia’s competitiveness will be eroded.
Our goal of wanting to be a high income country by 2020 will be difficult to attain.
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Seriousness of the problem
Indeed, the recognition by the Federal Government of the seriousness of the problem of brain drain has been borne out by some statistics. Between the beginning of 2008 and August 2009, slightly more than 300,000 Malaysians migrated overseas. The number that left in the first eight months of last year doubled that of the whole of 2008.
According to the World Bank, the number of Malaysians who settled overseas went up from around 9,500 in 1960 to 1.4 million in 2005, a near 150-fold increase over the 45-year period! Of those who have left, nearly 40 per cent of them have settled in Singapore; 30 per cent in the Organisation of Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) countries such as Australia, USA, UK, Canada and New Zealand; 20 per cent in other Asean countries and 10 per cent in the rest of the world.
Needless to say, a great number of them have tertiary education and are professionals like doctors, accountants, scientists and researchers. There are right now around 7,000 plus research scientists, which is about 70 per cent of the total in Malaysia, working overseas.
Such a haemorrhage of skills, knowledge and talent is bound to erode our scientific and technological capacity, at a time when we badly need this to effect the economic transformation of our country from a low to a high value-added economy.
Setting up the Talent Corporation
This explains why the Federal Government seems rather anxious to draw back some of this talent. It proposes to do this by setting up the Malaysian Talent Corporation next year.
According to the Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department, Tan Sri Nor Mohd Yaacob, this corporation hopes to draw back at least 70,000 Malaysians from overseas over the next 10 years by offering a package of very attractive incentives. What these are have not been specified but will only be announced later.
For the record, this is not the first time the Federal Government has taken the initiative to lure Malaysian talents back. It has previously attempted this through the Returning Scientists’ Programme and the Brain Gain Programme. These have however flopped. The response to these packages from those who have migrated has been poor.
Although it is still too early to evaluate, I am afraid this latest move by the Federal Government to draw talent home may not succeed again, unlike both Taiwan and the Republic of Korea, which successfully attracted their highly qualified and experienced scientists back in the 1950s, 60s and 70s.
Not addressing the real causes
This is because the programmes drawn up by the current Federal Government are unlikely, as in the past, to tackle the real causes of large-scale human capital flight from the country.
One of them is the continued resort to using race as a tool by power elites at the Federal Government ostensibly to help the Bumiputeras, but whose aim is in fact to nurture cronies. The victims of this race-based policy are the poor and middle class of all ethnic groups.
For the non-Bumiputeras who have attained good academic scores and/or who are financially strong, their first choice is to move across the causeway or overseas to further their studies. Many of them do not return as they do not see much prospect and hope for them in Malaysia.
Such a view does not just affect the non-Bumiputeras. Even some Bumiputeras, especially the Malays, have in recent years left for countries where they feel culturally less restricted and inhibited.
Many Malaysians have left also because their talents are recognised and utilised through offers of jobs that are materially rewarding and intellectually more fulfilling.
A lot of Malaysians have also been offered scholarships from early on by foreign governments to study in their countries. Upon graduation, many do not return.
Except for the Malaysian Government, many governments are rather aggressive in recruiting highly qualified talent from overseas to enhance their countries’ productive capability.
Yet another reason for the large exodus is the declining quality of our country’s education.
The reasons for our country’s human capital flight are racial discrimination; the lack of an open, democratic space; and declining quality of our country’s education.
Unlike other countries, many government agencies, especially the Immigration Department, are rather reluctant to approve applications for work permits and permanent residencies from highly skilled foreigners.
These are the reasons that have caused the emigration of many Malaysians, but are also the reasons the Federal Government fails to address in all its past programmes to lure Malaysian talents back.
The Malaysian Talent Corporation is unlikely to depart very far from past practices. This explains why I am pessimistic, though I wish to be proven wrong.
Toh Kin Woon is an Aliran member
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