Malaysiakini COMMENT | Malaysian brain drain – don’t go chasing waterfalls


Rais Hussin & Margarita Peredaryenko

Published:  May 25, 2022 10:10 AM

Updated: 10:10 AM

COMMENT | The topic of brain drain has been increasingly becoming the talk of the town for Malaysians during the last few years.

However, mass media and researchers have been highlighting that this global phenomenon is very real for Malaysia since more than a decade ago. The policymakers were aware of this too.

Already a decade ago, the National Economic Advisory Council warned the government that the brain drain phenomenon will delay Malaysia’s transition to high-income status.

Many talents left Malaysia, making it void of a critical mass of highly skilled individuals essential to cultivating and developing other talents.

The “push” factors originally come from the home country (Malaysia in this case) and consist of elements that motivate people to leave the country.

On the other hand, the “pull” factors are what attracts Malaysians abroad.

Looking at all those factors listed in Figure 1, this is quite a bit to swallow and might seem like an insurmountable task to reverse.

However, if we look at it carefully, the core underlying problem behind all of these factors is poor governance, poor policy planning and/or execution: biased, corrupted, populistic, suboptimal, identity-based, divisive, haphazard, unfair, inconsistent, complacent, incompetent, regressive, and simply outdated.

Until this changes, we will not be able to reverse our brain drain.

Meanwhile, global empirical research links the persistent brain drain issue with various structural problems in the home country (Figure 2).

What does Malaysia have out of this list by now?


Extrapolating from reported figures over the past years ranging from 1980 to 2019 (World Bank, 2011; Foo, 2011; United Nations Population Division, 2019), Figure 3 reconstructs the long-term trend.

From Figure 3, we observe not a linear but rather an exponential increase in the number of individuals, including those highly skilled, leaving Malaysia over the last 40 years.

The projected figures indicate that by 2022, the global Malaysian diaspora should be around two million, while the “highly skilled 25 years old and above” category probably constitutes about half a million by now.

According to the same estimates, slightly over a million Malaysian-born individuals live in Singapore (about 50 percent of the total Malaysian diaspora worldwide), out of which, close to a quarter of a million are highly skilled individuals.

Remember again, the Malaysian brain drain is voting with their feet against the overall Malaysian setup of governance and policymaking, which is the single most critical variable we need to change before we see everything else fall into place.

RAIS HUSSIN and MARGARITA PEREDARYENKO are part of Emir Research, a think tank focused on strategic policy recommendations. Rais is also a Bersatu supreme council member.

The views expressed here are those of the author/contributor and do not necessarily represent the views of Malaysiakini.


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