How brain drain can be beneficial to Malaysia and why it should be encouraged

Encouraging brain supply involves strategic planning, collaboration and a commitment to producing global graduates who could contribute significantly to the world. 

Jaziri Alkaf , The Malaysian Reserve

I think we got the brain drain issue all wrong in Malaysia. I have been tackling this matter in great depth during my years in the Senate. Surely we cannot afford to do the same thing year, year out and expect different results. A new approach that brings positive outcomes at a faster rate is needed. 

Malaysia has been grappling with the ongoing complex issue of brain drain. Talents are leaving Malaysia seeking better prospects. As students complete their secondary education, a significant proportion faces a critical decision; university, vocational training, or immediate entry into the workforce. 

The traditional mindset that often prioritises university education as the ultimate pathway to success still prevails even until today. Parents, teachers and society at large emphasise the prestige associated with earning a university degree. As a result, there has been a surge of university graduates over the past two decades. 

Annually, approximately 300,000 graduates are produced by both public and private institutions of higher learning. This number has been consistent over recent years, reflecting the country’s emphasis on higher education. In 2022, Malaysia recorded a total of 5.92 million graduates, indicating a steady increase in the number of individuals completing their higher education. 

Unfortunately, the job market has not been keeping pace. Alarmingly nearly 60% of graduates remain unemployed one year after graduation, according to the Ministry of Education Malaysia’s Graduate Tracer Study.

The majority or 55% of these unemployed graduates are degree holders. This oversupply exacerbates youth unemployment and strains the economy. 

There is a growing mismatch between talents and job prospects. Many graduates resort to jobs outside their field of study due to limited employment opportunities in their own field. The investment made in their education does not appear to yield corresponding returns. These graduates settle for positions with lesser pay that devalues their qualification leading to underutilisation of expertise and career dissatisfaction.