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The elephant behind Malaysia’s brain drain

Implement concrete measures to ensure that talented people from diverse backgrounds feel at home once again

Unable to see the elephant in the room

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Former health minister Khairy Jamaluddin made the headlines recently when he acknowledged that there was another factor contributing in part to the continuing and worrying brain drain faced by the country.

In his popular “Keluar Sekejap” podcast, Khairy partly attributed the talent migration to “second-class citizens” treatment that has been accorded in varying degrees to the ethnic minorities over the years.

His comment, made in relation to the role played by Talent Corporation Malaysia Bhd (better known as TalentCorp), caught the attention of some people – not so much because it was bold but because it came late in the day from a politician many assumed would have been well informed about and sensitive to the dangers of racial and institutional discrimination all these years.

For many years, many politicians – the ethno-religious nationalists in particular – had avoided the elephant in the room. A few of them have even ventured into imagining Malaysia as a Malay-only land.

TalentCorp is an agency under the Ministry of Human Resources that has been tasked to attract, nurture and retain Malaysian talent and expertise in our collective desire to become a developed nation.

Although there are other roles played by TalentCorp, what it is normally associated with is its “returning experts programme”, a government scheme designed to encourage Malaysian professionals abroad to return home through the use of various incentives. The programme aims to stem the brain drain – caused by highly educated professionals emigrating to take advantage of better career prospects abroad – by offering returnees benefits such as tax breaks and permanent residency for family members.

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To reiterate, a factor often cited as playing a vital role in luring some people to seek greener pastures abroad is the eroding sense of belonging to the homeland among those who feel that they’ve been treated as second-class citizens. So, they leave, often with a heavy heart, to places where they feel they will be better appreciated.

It doesn’t help to improve the situation when there are quarters who still insist that communities other than the majority ethnic Malays are considered “pendatang” (immigrants). Obviously, it is not comforting for the ethnic minorities.

But this doesn’t necessarily mean that only the minorities are affected. There are also Malays who have made the tough decision to leave their beloved tanah airku (homeland).

Apart from economic reasons, they also feel alienated by the lack of appreciation for meritocracy as well as discrimination due to their having the wrong political stripes.

As alluded to above, money is not the only reason. Overseas jobs that match the high-level skills certain Malaysians have acquired, greater democratic space in foreign countries, and a good education system for their children are some of their other reasons.

That is why many Malaysians who left our shores regard Singapore as “the most favoured country”, followed by Australia, the UK, the US and other nations.

In other words, we have lost our own talent who went to schools and public universities funded by our taxpayers, only to be snatched by interested parties in foreign lands.

That was how we ‘lost’ the creator of the world’s first pen-drive, Sekinchan-born Pua Khein Seng, who, after graduating from a Taiwanese university, set up shop in Taiwan.

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The current situation must have been so dire that it prompted House of Representatives Speaker Johari Abdul to visit the prestigious Tsinghua University in China, where he urged Malaysian students there to return home after graduation to help develop the country, which is facing many economic challenges.

These students are presumably top scorers of the Unified Examination Certificate, which, incidentally, the Malaysian government has yet to recognise.

Recognising the elephant in the room is only the first step. Next come concrete measures to make these talents from diverse backgrounds feel at home once again. – The Malaysian Insight

The views expressed in Aliran's media statements and the NGO statements we have endorsed reflect Aliran's official stand. Views and opinions expressed in other pieces published here do not necessarily reflect Aliran's official position.

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SP Choong
SP Choong
9 Oct 2023 10.02pm

There’re so many elephants in room holding us back that we shall need a zoo to keeper to keep track of their antics and to keep them placated. We are told if any of them escape from their cages, all hell will break. So best to let them be!!

8 Oct 2023 10.44pm

How can I share my views

Aliran admin
9 Oct 2023 1.17pm
Reply to  Narainan

Use the same way you wrote that.

R. Saravanah
8 Oct 2023 9.57pm

Is KJ oblivion that Malaysia has racial discrimination for so many years or he is turning a blind eye, now that he is longer in the cabinet, he suddenly he open his eye saying there is brain drain. Why didn’t bring this issues when he was in the cabinet?

TH Lim
TH Lim
8 Oct 2023 4.22pm

KJ is not saying something new. Every retired or ex-politicians, especially of Malay origins, said those remarks once they’re no more in the govt. WHY?

Why didn’t these ex-politicians said that or even do something to correct the problem when they’re in govt. What do they expect when their voices is only as loud as a layman like you & me when they left the govt ? It need not require a space scientist to tell that these ex-politicians knew very well what had been happening and worst, some are involved in the decision process to upheld and exploit the Affirmative Actions to their own political advantage then. So KJ should know better that people know what he had done before and it would be an insult to think people forgotten his acts.

8 Oct 2023 3.04pm

If not mistaken.. we did try merit method to enter uni.. then reverse.. coz there a minority grp left behind even furrher..

8 Oct 2023 11.07am

As long as minorities marginalized,discriminated base on quota system in Malaysia,there were no hope,so sorry because independent signed and given to 3 major race yet one race trying to rule all,thats the main issue!

7 Oct 2023 9.01pm

there is no way non malays will return until the govt applies the merit system.The man behind the SIA sucess is an indian from Klang… look at MAS run by the Tuans a failure everyday. All non malay parents encourage their children to leave. many including me never let our children into the education system which has failed.We cannot afford to pawn our childrens life to some imcompetent govt and minister and teachers to screw up their future.Good luck for Madani

YK Lee
YK Lee
7 Oct 2023 5.37pm

Dear Sir,
Your article spelled out the issues and problems very well and are not far fetched. For political expediency the political powers may very well be aware but chose to recognise these issues for fear of losing popularity and to safeguard their positions.
There is no will to undo the discrimination policies found at every turn. Many talk a good talk but shy when it comes to initiate reform.
Even with the best of will results will take a long time. Without reform the wellbeing of the nation and its people can only continue to go in one direction which is decline.
Hope is only part of the answer. Actions are important. There’s no need to bribe or give unnecessary advantages to returnees. Just practice meritocracy.

Last edited 5 months ago by YK Lee
7 Oct 2023 2.10pm

No way would we, esp being Chinese and a minority has always been treated as pendatang and never feel being accepted as citizens we would never return for the sake of our children’s future. All of us, our siblings have forsaken Malaysia and settled in Australia, all being given a fair go. The children all excelled, had scholarships and obtained their Phd’s., happily contributing to the development of the host country. Malaysia only gives lip service, they never change their racism.

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