Battling the brain drain


  • Opinion
  • Monday, 31 Mar 2014

For today’s generation of young Malaysians, loving the country may no longer be enough to live the life they want.

When I turned 24, I was still in limbo. I worried about what I could do with my life so that I would not disappoint my parents and society.

You see, my parents owned their first house at the age of 24.

Four years down the road for me now, they still berate me by comparing our achievements. But one thing that we can agree on – even in all their gloating glory – is that things are very different now.

I am not worried about not owning a house before the age of 25 because, given the current situation, what I should worry about is how much I have left to eat after I am done paying my loans, bills and rent, as well as the amount that I need to keep aside for those rainy days.

Sometimes it feels like the rainy days are upon us now.

The situation can break the spirit of young people such as myself. Price hikes create an unwanted yet unavoidable domino effect, which will eventually fall on us and crush us into dust.

Recent studies have shown that nearly half of young adults – those aged between 18 and 35 – are in debt, with some even declared bankrupt.

And all this is happening while we are still fresh graduates aiming to build a career in a country where minimum wage really does seem minimal.

Consider our situation and tell us honestly – where should we place our priorities?

Young adults are finding it harder to meet society’s standards of a good life. If you are not born into the good life, you may not achieve it. And that runs contrary to the Malaysian dream, which many previous generations have enjoyed.

The desire to pursue an interest is not about passion anymore. Interest becomes a necessity and passion is a luxury, if not an irrational emotion.

When society measures one’s success materialistically, the pressure to perform in order to meet the standards feels like a losing battle for my generation and the ones after me.

I was lucky to be able to pursue the field of my interest and make a decent living out of it. But I certainly can’t say the same for many of my peers, who purposely chose a “financially stable” course of study so as to secure their future indefinitely.

Now, five years after I left tertiary education behind, the trend has taken an unusual direction. Many still want to be engineers, lawyers and doctors – the professional professions – while others choose to enter sales or fight their way to be part of the much coveted oil and gas industry.

Just look at the number of private colleges and universities offering and pushing these courses. The 2004 annual Malaysian Medical Association reported that there will be a surplus of about 4,000 doctors by 2020.

It is great to have a nation full of skilled medical experts, but what becomes of the quality when there is so little control over so many?

Secondly, how many of those students are genuinely interested in a career in medicine or any field that they are studying for? Does our country even have enough jobs for them when they graduate?

What if everyone wants a lucrative private practice in Kuala Lumpur and they all refuse to work in rural Sabah or Perlis?

What drives many to study for a career is not passion and interest anymore. Their motivation is to earn lots of money, lead a nice life with a nice car and buy a nice house.

Their life goal is to possess the 5Cs (card, credit, cash, condo, cars), which is practically impossible for a clerk, a struggling artist or any blue collar worker to achieve.

Yet these illusions and so-called “standards” are what influence the brain drain in Malaysia. The saying “go to where the money is” is what drives the people with arts degrees to get into corporate sales, and our local engineers to move to places where the competition is tough but fair and the payoff highly satisfying.

Is the grass always greener on the other side? No, but there appears to be enough to keep luring Malaysians away.

Malaysians living overseas face the same problems as any expat moving to a new place. They have to overcome language differences, make new friends, adapt to the local diet and adopt the mindset of the foreign culture.

And yet so many go through all that trouble of starting a new life even though we have it quite good here.

Can Malaysia not provide the quality of life for her 30 million assets so that they will have the skill and talent to prepare and propel her towards Vision 2020? Why are our young Malaysians leaving in a constant flow?

In 2012, the World Bank announced that one million Malaysians are soldiering away overseas. A staggering 46% of them are in neighbouring Singapore.

These Malaysians are going where the money is. It has nothing to do with patriotism and everything to do with fulfilling societal expectations and the feeling that the local situation is hampering their life opportunities.

Lilian Kok believes that all men are created equal and should actively engage in the pursuit of happiness. The views expressed are entirely the writer’s own.

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