This is a guest post by a philantrophist tycoon, Mr. Koon Yew Yin. You can read about his recentstock recommendation here.

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.

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?

By Koon Yew Yin
4th May 2011


Personal finance author and trainer

    7 replies to "The Great Malaysian Brain Drain"

    • K S

      The article was very interesting and did directly bring out important issues through specific cases.

      I do believe that the segregationist policies in the country especially those concerning education should be reviewed and revoked.

      However, to leave the country totally(including giving up citizenship and so forth) is not a solution to the matter.

      The only people benefitting from these segregationist policies (a major one being the economic policy) are the ruling politicians and their circle of friends and family. It is to be noted that at present, it is only the rich Malay, Chinese and Indian politicians whom benefit from the economic imbalance of the country.

      I do not wish to say that we are to fight against economic corruption, for such practices will exist at some level even in the most developed of economies.

      Having said that however, it is necessary that we fight against the injustice that is happening in Malaysia in the form of governance.

      Malaysia is no longer the pre-colonial Malay land it used to be. It has evolved into the present culturally diverse Malaysia. On a day to day basis the Chinese, Indian and Malay people of the nation live a happy and co-operative life.

      The Chinese community played an important role in the formation of the modern commercial sectors of the country. Without them, businesses ranging from the small coffee shop to the big construction industries would have been in the hands of the western world.

      The Indians were the people whom made this whole country economically fertile through their hard-work in the rubber and palm estates. Till today, they are recognised as the people whom laid the roads of the country which acts as the arteries supplying every town and city in Malaysia.

      The Malay community played a significant role in the agricultural practices of the country. Their cultivation of rice and various other produce kept the country nourished during the past.

      Very often in discussions, the true hereditary owners of this Malaysian land are forgotten. All the major ethnic communities of Malaysia, the Chinese, Indian and even the Malay, are in fact immigrants to this country. We should not forget that the true owners of this land are the indigenous people of this country.

      Even if one is permanently resident in foreign countries, he/she should acknowledge and be aware of the plurality and multiculturalism that makes our country MALAYSIA.

      Calling oneself Malaysian, is not just a title for its sake. It means the dedication to always have the motherland at heart and to always remember to uphold the justice and truth in it.
      No political party, regardless of whether it is BN/PKR/Gerakan/PAS will ever be the symbol of our nation. The only symbol of our nation, is us, the people and the nature that is Malaysia.

      The government is one that is created to act as a servant to the people of Malaysia. The respect that is given to the post of prime ministers and ministers, is one given solely to the post and the duty that comes with it. It is not given to the particular person whom occupies it. This is often forgotten in our country with the person occupying the post being given more respect and authority than the post itself.

      Malaysians living abroad having obtained a slightly better living should always remember the land that they originate from and endeavour to help their fellow compatriots irrespective of ethnicity.
      If you are capable of helping a student whom was denied access to good quality education like that had been done by Mr. Koon Yew Yin, then YOU HAVE THE RESPONSIBILITY of HELPING YOUR COMPATRIOT.

      When a soldier is injured in a field, his compatriots do not leave him to die there but will protect him while fighting the battle.

      This is what we should be capable of doing as well. The 1 Million Malaysians residing abroad are capable alleviating a lot of the disparities that exists in Malaysia through both individual and organised efforts.

      To just leave the matter and be content for achieving comfort for one’s ownself is just an act of selfishness. Even the littlest of help to our fellow Malaysians would be our way of showing respects and fulfilling the duty of being a Malaysian.

      It is important to remember that although elected by the people, at many times, the government is not an accurate representation of the intents of the people. This is especially so in the case of Malaysia.

      So, for the Malaysians whom reside abroad, I hope we can bear this thought in mind and always do our level best to uphold justice, truth and the livelihood of our Malaysian people.

      K S.

    • […] Why talented Malaysians are migrating to foreign countries? 4 May 2011 … The pre-university Asean scholarship extended to Malaysians by ‘the little red … mostly with tertiary education immigrated and replaced by a larger … Is this the best way to become a developed nation like Singapore? … – Cached […]

    • tan thian huat

      we need to be realistic.
      this situation has happened many years.
      we need to adjust and move forward.
      the black in US has been marginalized for many years and so was the Jew.
      but through a good education and career, they have prosper
      i was able to get good educations with the support of my family and using the facility available such as evening class for my HSC when i was rejected by TAR college many years ago.
      i am thankful as the government believe in free enterprise unlike communist countries.
      we should help our fellows Malaysians and also not to abandon others who choose stay behind.

    • wero

      Good article ..but i dont think the main reason for the drain is because of the state policy. The main reason behind this is they all being paid well in other countries. Can u imagine if u are trainee actuary in Malaysia and Uk.. What is the difference betweenthem?RM2000 VS 2000pound. ACCA Rm4000 vs 4000pound?or Singapore? RM2500 VS 2500singapre dollar?

      2. If i am not mistaken, UTAR also is a public university.

      3. One way to solve this problem is to has education system that pooled all races in same school.That why we can see other countries like UK, US can have better economy and no issues for racism.(might be thed did but not like Malaysia, which kee increasing because of the exploitation of the blogs, media, tv)The problem is, some of races worried their children will forgot where they come from if the government implemented this policy.

      Just my two cents.

      • PC

        I am one such Msian Chinese who left Msia at 15yrs to go to SG, even without Asean scholarship. I saw too many of my cousins with 7/8/9 As offered rubbish at tertiary level. They had the fortune of parents who could afford US/UK/AU. My parents could only do SG, so I went early instead of wasting my years in MY. After a year, I got the SG Asean scholarship and have stayed ever since – it is natural when one’s friends and spouse and family are all in SG. The SG govt’s Asean scholarship is really a very clever way of attracting the smart-but-sidelined of Msia. I go back to Msia a few times a year to visit family and eat, but my home is now in SG. My other Msian friends have gone a step further and given up the MY passport. There are thousands upon thousands like me. Almost half of the top Mgmt in my company, a big govt company in SG, all originated from Msia – Kedah, Penang, Perak, Sgor, KL, Johor. All making money for Singapore entities. That is the simple truth.

      • W Tan

        I am one of the many Brain Drain and I am one of the benefactors of Mr Koon’s cadetship scheme in Mudajaya Construction. I am sharing my personal perspective of this issue. Being paid well in our adopted country comparatively to what we can earn in Malaysia as a professional is certainly not the central motivation in my decision to migrate. With higher taxes and higher expenses in our adopted country, it is a complex comparison of what our life style here is comparing with other professionals who stay put in Malaysia. There are pros and cons and a finely balanced one.
        The main driving force for me is the “push factor” to provide a level playing field for my future generations. The push factor had indeed increased since my migration 30 years ago.
        One of the foundation stones for the “divide & rule” political game is the gerry-mander system where political power are entrenched into the hands of the rural voters. No politicians in rural areas can speak up against populist policies dividing and crippling the nation without facing the backlash from the rural voters. Without a reform to return the voting power to a 1man-1vote-representation principle, there will be no political will to govern for what is best for the nation. Politicians will continue to do what it takes to stay in power instead of what is best for the nation.
        GE14 shows a swing of green wave support towards more populist and right wing policies. The battle to save the nation need to start by removing the gerry-mander system to empower politicians to do what is good for the nation rather than to do what it takes for them to be in power.

    • […] Penang to KL, the discussion in the car was all about one of Mr. Koon’s recent article – ‘The Great Malaysian Brain Drain’. We were counting and were amazed with the number of our friends who are residing outside of our […]

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