LETTER

The leaving of the suppressed

Dr Hsu Dar Ren

Published
Modified 16 May 2008, 8:45 am

The most important asset of a country is not its natural resources, but rather its human resources. This is especially true in a knowledge-based economy, which, of course, will be the trend in the future if not already the trend in most of the Western countries. My daughter, who is in her final year medicine in Auckland, told me that a team of Singapore recruitment officers have just visited Auckland and talked to the Malaysian students there, offering jobs and training prospects for the final-year students once they graduate.

My daughter also told me that over the last few years, quite a lot of her Malaysian seniors, after graduating from medical courses in NZ, have gone to Singapore to work as house-officers and subsequently stayed back in Singapore for their postgraduate training. Similar teams are sent to Australia and UK for recruiting Malaysians there to work in Singapore.

About a year ago, Reuters reported: ‘Malaysia is counting on bright, ambitious people like Tan Chye Ling for its future, to lead it away from manufacturing and into the knowledge age.

But the 32-year-old scientist, a post-graduate in molecular biology, is not counting on Malaysia to look after her future.

‘I felt very suppressed in Malaysia,’ said Tan, who moved to neighbouring Singapore, the region’s pace-setter for biotech investment, after a decade of study and research in Malaysia.

‘I have benefited from the better research environment and salary scheme here. Things are much smoother,’ she said by phone from the National University of Singapore where she is studying dust mites and allergies. Tan estimates that 60 percent of the research teams she works with in Singapore are from Malaysia, despite her country’s efforts over several years to develop a biotech industry.’

There is a serious problem facing Malaysia and that is the problem of ‘brain drain’. Why are Malaysians overseas not coming back to work? Well, pay may be part of the reasons but it is not the main reason. Singapore recruitment teams offer Malaysian medical students a salary which is a few times what they would expect to get in Malaysia S$40,000 a year for houseman after tax ( equivalent to RM86, 000) which is about five times the pay of a houseman in Malaysia.

But, as I say, pay is not the main problem. The living expenses overseas is high. And for a person working overseas, the loneliness and the stress level is also high. So not everyone opts to work overseas because of the pay. Many would not mind to work for a lesser pay if they can stay near to their loved ones. So why do people choose to work overseas, away from their loved ones ?

Malaysia has many state-of-the-arts hospitals and research centres, which may even be the envy of many overseas countries. But hardware alone would not attract these experts to come home. In the medical field, I have so many friends /classmates working overseas, many in world-renowned centres. Why do they do that? Some of my classmates and friends did come back as specialists. After working a few years (many only lasted a few months), most got disillusioned and went off again.

There is really not much prospect of career advancement here. How many can hope to become a professor even when they are an acknowledged expert in their field? On the other hands , lesser beings are being promoted to professorship for doing much less. How many of them can have a say about how things are to be run? How many of them can blend into the local team where the work attitude is vastly different from that overseas?

There is an unwritten rule that even if the person is very good, the head of the team has to be someone from a certain ethnic group who may not be even half as good as him. In everyday life, some become disillusioned with the corruption, the red tape and the tidak apa attitude of officialdom. For an overseas doctor applying to work back home, the application can take up to six months to get approved, whereas Singapore sends teams overseas to recruit them on the spot and offering them jobs immediately as long as they pass their final examinations. See the difference?

It is the sense of being wanted and being appreciated that make these people stay overseas. Back here, they are often made to feel that they are of a lower class. They do not feel wanted and they do not feel appreciated. That is the main reason.

For those with children , the education system further puts them off. Even schoolchildren can feel being discriminated against and one glaring example is the two-system pre-university education.

All these make them pack their bags and off they go again, leaving behind their parents, perhaps their siblings, the friends they grew up together with and their favourite food that is often not available overseas. No one likes to be away from home but circumstances and a sense of being recognised for their worth make them go away. It is really sad.

Parents spend big sums of money on educating their children but the ones who benefit most are the Singaporeans, the Americans, the Australians, the British and so on. As long as race politics is not done away with, this problem of ‘brain drain’ will continue and Malaysia will always trail behind the advanced countries no matter how many Twin Towers and Putrajayas we build.

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