Malaysia

Social injustice main cause of country’s brain drain, says World Bank

By Asrul Hadi Abdullah Sani
April 28, 2011

KUALA LUMPUR, April 28 — Social injustice is one of the top three reasons behind the country’s brain drain, the World Bank said today, adding that Malaysians are only willing to return if the government shifts from race-based to needs-based affirmative action policies.

The World Bank conducted an online survey in February of 200 Malaysians living abroad in conjunction with the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University.

In its fourth issue of the Malaysia Economic Monitor, the report stated that 60 per cent of the respondents found that social injustice as their main concern to migrate or return-migrate, citing unequal access to scholarships and higher education especially among the younger generation within the non-Bumiputera community.

Of those surveyed, 66 per cent found that lack of career prospects was a major factor and 54 per cent agreed that unattractive salaries as underlying factors in the Malaysian diaspora.

The report also showed that a large number of the diaspora migrated to Singapore, resulting in Malaysian-born individuals contributing to a quarter of the island nation’s population in 2010.

According to a census conducted in Singapore last year, there are currently 385,979 Malaysians-born residents comprising 47 per cent of all skilled foreign labour in the country.

The number of ethnic Chinese among Malaysian migrants in Singapore has also jumped from 85 per cent in 2000 to 88 per cent in 2010.

The World Bank also said that a large number of Malaysians obtained their tertiary education overseas, pointing out that those emigrating are getting younger as more of those below 23 are leaving the country. 

The report concluded that the “Malaysian diaspora is large and expanding, as well as geographically concentrated and ethnically skewed.”

In a Bloomberg news service report earlier today, World Bank senior economist Philip Schellekens was quoted as saying that foreign investment could be five times the current levels if the country had Singapore’s talent base.

“Migration is very much an ethnic phenomenon in Malaysia, mostly Chinese but also Indian,” Schellekens told Bloomberg in Kuala Lumpur on Tuesday ahead of the report’s release today.

Governance issues and lack of meritocracy are “fundamental constraints” to Malaysia’s expansion because “competition is what drives innovation,” he said.

Malaysia’s growth fell to an average 4.6 per cent a year in the past decade, from 7.2 per cent the previous period.

Singapore, which quit Malaysia in 1965, expanded 5.7 per cent in the past decade and has attracted more than half of its neighbour’s overseas citizens, according to the World Bank.

Malaysia has in recent years unveiled plans to improve skills and attract higher value-added industries.

Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak has pledged to roll back the country’s NEP-style policies but he also told the Umno assembly last year that the government’s social contract of providing benefits to Bumiputeras cannot be repealed.

According to the Bloomberg report, Najib has eased some rules to woo funds, including scrapping a requirement that foreign companies investing in Malaysia and locally-listed businesses set aside 30 per cent of their Malaysian equity for indigenous investors. 

Last year, he unveiled an economic transformation programme under which the government identified US$444 billion (RM1.3 trillion) of projects from mass rail transit to nuclear power that it would promote in the current decade.