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Site Admin Posts: 88 Joined: 20 Sep 2006 Location: Melbourne, Australia

Post subject: Article: Change the system - and they may return

Posted: Thu Nov 09, 2006 5:16 pm

I read this article from Global Malaysians Forum, which I find very interesting topic to look at. There are many Malaysian abroad. Permanent Resident and perhaps changed the citizenship. Why? I personally think it is not because they dont love Malaysia or Malaysia is not the best place to live in, my guess must be something else..Have a read at this interesting article about why the Malaysian move out...

Last edited by nurul on Thu Nov 09, 2006 5:17 pm; edited 1 time in total

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Site Admin Posts: 88 Joined: 20 Sep 2006 Location: Melbourne, Australia

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Posted: Thu Nov 09, 2006 5:17 pm

There are countless ‘why-I-left’ anecdotes screaming from Malaysian diasporic blogsites - each anecdote, potentially punishable under the Sedition Act, flagging pointers on how to plug the ‘brain drain’. Promote fair opportunities for all, they say. Shun mediocrity. Inspire meritocracy. Wipe out systemic discrimination. And one of a different tone – ‘fix the KL traffic jams’. A random content analysis shows each angry anecdote ends with a reckoning that changes in ‘the system’ will never happen without the political will.

Economics, education and career have compelled many to leave since the late 70s to as far as the UK and US; as isolated as New Zealand and Australia. From scientists and doctors to academics, engineers and the rare journalist, will they return if they see signs of ‘the system’ changing to become ‘more accommodating’? Maybe.

Dr James Ooi, research pathologist in Massachusetts, who left Penang for Taiwan in the early 90s then to the US says, “Regrettably, we as a nation, are only aware of the brain drain now. Malaysia has tin and rubber, Arabs have oil. What the US lacks in natural resources, it more than makes it up in human resources … the tertiary educational infrastructure is so conducive to learning and collaborative research that it attracts researchers from all over the world, and that drives the technological advances we see today.”

Ooi is one among many who made their own way overseas on their own steam. No JPA scholarship. Only parental support and fair access to scholarships based on academic performance, interviews and research outputs.

System change

Like many specialists, Ooi sees the irony in his expertise acquired overseas. He has made himself redundant in the Malaysian job market, such as in the fields of molecular biology, pathology and genetics. “Even if it existed, they are either confined to applicable technologies, and usually in the field of agriculture, construction or public health. I think this is mainly due to the impending needs of a developing country... there simply are no expandable resources for basic research. I would love to settle back in Malaysia provided I can leverage what I have learned and trained for,” he said. Until his skills are needed, and his ethnicity a non-issue, Ooi will remain in the diasporic loop – watching for any signs of system change back home.

A military journalist based in Washington, who covered Afghanistan last year, might return if she was able to do in Malaysia what she could in the US. Money, while important, is not a critical factor. “My job lets me cover what is very possibly the biggest news story of my generation. Also, I get to travel domestically and internationally … I don't know if I would have the same opportunities (in Malaysia) as I have here. Also, the sheer number of newspapers and publications in America gives journalists so many more options for career advancement or simply a change of scenery.”

Indeed, Malaysian expatriates see their career moving on a steeper trajectory overseas, equal opportunities protected by law. But as our politicians are wont to say, discrimination on the home front may be more imagined than real. Be that as it may, the reasons to remain overseas are significantly strong, the incentives to return obviously weak.

Ask not what the country can do for you, ask what you can do for the country? This cuts little ice. Dr Ratnam Alagiah, a ‘global citizen’ academic in Queensland says “the issues that face humanity now are global in nature. Love of all the world's peoples does not exclude love of one's country … that said I would return to Malaysia and work only if the system was based on merit and not by any other standard … that’s the only way to achieve true quality”.

Business development manager, TY Lim, who left two years ago for a state bank in New Zealand says, “I have equal rights with anyone here – permanent resident or citizen. If you are willing to work, you will succeed. I might (return to Malaysia) on temporary posting but not permanently. Only way to come back permanently is for the Malaysian constitution to change to provide for equal rights.”

I am 'Malaysian'

Racial politics and discrimination, it happens overseas too? True, says a Malaysian IT specialist with an American software house, but “it's just more painful when such things happen at home”. Another, who left in 1989, now a paediatrician with the National Health Service in the UK says, “I always refer to myself as being 'Malaysian' with pride abroad. It's a shame I don't feel like I'm one when I actually get home,” says Dr Mars Silva Skae. Another Malaysian doctor says the government “should do all it can to retain or encourage its citizens to return, by nurturing them, irrespective of race or religion, from an early age.”

Equal opportunities have yet to take root in the Malaysian system. Those who miss out head to Australia where ‘a fair go’ is seen as the right thing to do. In two years to 2005, a total of 3,633 Malaysian – mainly from the sciences, technology, nursing, engineering and financial sectors – have settled permanently. Recent immigration policies have also made it easier for graduates in professional areas of high demand to apply for permanent residency.

According to IDP Education Australia, 19,342 Malaysians were enrolled in Australian universities, vocational institutes and high schools in 2005. We’re the fifth source country after China (81,814); India (27,661); South Korea (26,259); Hong Kong (21,184). Since the 60s, more than 250,000 Malaysians have graduated from Australian universities – more than half from business management, followed by a third in the sciences. One can speculate on how many of these 250,000 have settled permanently in Australia.

Full-fee paying Malaysian students contribute significantly to Australian education sector’s bottom line. With an average of A$20,000 tuition fees per year for an undergraduate engineering or IT degree, we’re looking at about RM55, 000 per student in lost foreign exchange. They pay for their own education and training at no cost to Australian taxpayers. And Australia reaps the benefit when these graduates with highly needed skills apply to stay permanently.

Temporary skilled worker visa for stays of six months (Visa 456) to four years (Visa 457) have seen 40,000 migrants, mainly from Asia, arrive this year. Including their dependents, there are about 75,000 people in Australia on the Visa 457.

Fuzzy guesstimates

What strategies can Malaysia take to stem the outflow of its human capital to the ‘west’, and, possibly reverse the trend? How is the net outflow of talents affecting the country’s social and economic development? Jabatan Imigresen or Ministry of Human Resources have no database to help answer these questions.

For the past decade or so, the brains who left are being replaced only by the brawns arriving, legally and illegally, from less developed countries to build the many mega projects, shopping malls, hotels and condominiums from the Klang valley to the beaches in Kuantan. But that’s another story for another day.

Returning home to contribute may become a non-issue with today’s online technology and outsourcing. Online collaboration across space and time has forged productive economic, intellectual and cultural linkages. National and ethnic identities are becoming irrelevant with mega corporations, the media and the world of academia, internationalizing its creed and culture. There’s a brain bank to be tapped as expatriates telecommute from remote locations on flexi time.

To date, we have fuzzy guesstimates on the spread of the Malaysian intellectual diaspora, where and who they are, what they do. It will come down to a question of whether the government has the political will to genuinely engage and tap the expertise of (ex)Malaysian living overseas, regardless of their race – many still hanging on to their passports.

Many I spoke to still have their roots planted deep in Malaysian soil, like Dr James Lau, senior principal engineer with a global firm in the UK. “I have always intended to go back to Malaysia - mainly for my aging parents and bringing up our young children,” he said. “You cannot put a value to good family support when bringing up children. However, circumstances (career advancement) have resulted in me still being in the UK. It gets very complicated when you have to consider the future needs of your children. (But) we understand that Malaysia will have its difficulties.”

Indeed, potential returnees need to be assured that Malaysia is still home, that their children will be allowed to realize their full potential, which they certainly can in their adopted country. As a ‘reluctant leaver’ wrote to malaysiakini (Feb 06): “There are many things we do in life not because we want to, but because we need to. Leaving Malaysia was one of them.”

Source - Malaysiakini

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