What is this blog about?

In summer of 2010, I conducted a research project to find out what Malaysians think of brain drain. Particularly, I wanted to know how Malaysians who have or are studying and working outside the country make their decision on whether to return to the homeland or to stay abroad. While this decision is highly personal and varies depending on the individual, I hoped to find some overarching trends that would shed some light into this national and global phenomenon. My goal for this research was to identify, categorize and explain the most important factors for Malaysians in this complex decision-making process.

How did you do that?

To gather data I could analyze statistically, I created an online survey targeted at overseas Malaysians and publicized it via personal contacts and an events page on Facebook.

The survey asked for demographic information such as the respondent’s age, gender, ethnicity and country studied abroad. Respondents were asked to rate on a scale of one to five, how strongly they desired to return to Malaysia (if they were abroad) or leave Malaysia (if they were residing in Malaysia). Respondents were given the option to elaborate on their reasons why.

Then, there were scalar questions about the respondent’s opinions of various aspects of Malaysia; such as its political situation, its economic situation, safety, education and human rights. For the sake of statistical analysis and comparison, these abstract factors were rated on a scale of one to ten, with one being not important at all and ten being most important.

The survey also asked respondents to rate from a scale of one to five how important each of the following factors were to their decision whether to return or not: job prospects, religion, family ties and moral duty.

The survey also asked respondents if they believed overseas Malaysians should come home and if those returnees could make a difference. Finally, respondents were invited to share their aspirations were for Malaysia.

Why is this important?

It is a global issue. International movement of human capital has been a catalyst for growth and innovation since the beginning of man, and is still an important phenomenon today. The increasing interconnectedness of our world and ease of travel has serious consequences for every nation, one of which is that no country can take its human capital for granted. Brain drain, the mass emigration of people with skills and knowledge to other countries, is a serious issue for many developing countries in Asia, eastern Europe and Africa. Brain drain hampers a country’s development and in the long run, increases all forms of inequality between developed and developing nations.

It is a national issue. According to the 2005 World Bank report, Malaysia has almost 1.5 million nationals living overseas (for a country of 28 million). In one year (2008-2009), 305,000 people left for greener pastures. In 2000, over 100,000 Malaysians with tertiary education had emigrated to OECD countries. That’s over 100,000 educated Malaysians who could have contributed their intellectual talents and financial resources to improve this country, lost to other countries.

But it’s not just economic, social and political progress within the country that we’ve lost. Malaysians abroad are our ambassadors. Their attitudes toward Malaysia shape how others view our country, how willing foreigners are to invest, travel or collaborate with Malaysia and Malaysian interests. If Malaysians abroad feel disconnected to their home country, it is a loss to Malaysia in tangible and intangible ways.

It is a personal issue. This subject is personally relevant as I am a second-year university student pursuing my B.A. in Economics and Politics at Scripps College, USA. My views about Malaysia, like most others who have gone overseas, are complex and sometimes contradictory. A strong desire to return and contribute to the country of my birth conflicts with the practical reality that it is often more profitable and comfortable to live and work in a developed nation.

What did I find?

Read on to find out!

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