The Issue of Brain Drain

by Darya Ebrahimi

Malaysia is one of the states that is highly affected by the phenomenon commonly referred to as the brain drain. Over the past few decades the rate of brain drain in Malaysia has been on an exponential rise. To understand the effects and causes of brain drain we must first understand what is generally meant by ‘brain drain’.

The term refers to the flight of human capital, where individuals with high levels of education and training opt to immigrate for work to countries in pursuit of new opportunities. Where Malaysia is concerned, the brain drain has caused some adverse effects with an approximate 500,000 highly skilled Malaysians have been scattered across the globe, offering their expertise to their countries of residence. According to a study conducted by the world bank in the early 2010-2011, one in ten skilled Malaysians born and raised in Malaysia make the choice to leave in hopes of putting their skills to use elsewhere.

Furthermore, the study reported that a great deal of Malaysians hold professional and high demand positions in many countries but Malaysia. The rise in this trend comes at increased preference of Malaysian students choosing to remain in the country in which they received higher education to find work and settle down. On the other hand, the students who do wish to return to their home country often find it hard as the opportunities offered to them are not as appealing as the country they studied in.

In addition to this, a large number of parents advise their children studying abroad to seek out jobs and opportunities where they are. This is evidently an issue, as the young talent is consistently leaving the country to look for better opportunities. A handful of government organisations have acknowledged the severity of this issue but have simultaneously lacked in effort to address the problem at hand.

One of the main factors that plays into the phenomenon of ‘brain drain’ is the type of economy at play. The Malaysian economy is predominantly geared towards production and manufacturing as opposed to research and development. This means that there is an undeniable high demand for semi-skilled labour and an exponential deficit in skilled job opportunities. Research and development has consistently been at the bottom of the list in priorities which has resulted in extremely qualified professionals with backgrounds in different fields of research to put their trade to use in many foreign countries.

Yet another factor that can be taken into consideration is the traditional jobs roles that are most popular in Malaysia, these jobs include doctors, lawyers, engineers, accountants, finance executives. Therefore, those who have taken the ‘road less travelled’ tend to have less opportunities at their disposal, forcing these individuals to seek out offers from other countries in order to have the chance to earn a decent living.

As of yet, the government has failed to take large strides towards enticing Malaysians living abroad to return. The TalentCorp agency and those alike have claimed that an upwards of 3,000 professionals have returned to work in Malaysia since 2011. As large as this number may seem, it is in fact a mere 0.2 per cent of the Malaysian diaspora working and living overseas.

The question remains, how can the government address this? The government needs to look into addressing the present gaps in technical needs in providing tangible opportunities and structured plans to hire individuals that are able and willing to fill those gaps. This can be achieved through a myriad of ways, one of which is a talent scouting program. This would be following in the footsteps of many other countries that take the initiative to scout for professionals on an active basis. Furthermore, this will allow for graduate students to reach job opportunities before they graduate and entice them to return home. Lastly, the government should take a different approach to the research and development sector by considering it as an investment, creating a platform for brilliant Malaysian minds who are currently forced to work overseas.