“Malaysia at crossroads: A weeping child looking for a saviour in all of us”

MALAYSIA is facing the nexus of three fundamental problems, all related to human capital weaknesses – brain drain issue, education system crisis and the governance crisis.

The three reinforce each other to make us lose talents exponentially, as the global data available over the years suggests (see “Malaysian brain drain – don’t go chasing waterfalls”). If all three remain unchecked, Malaysia is about to lose its talents lock, stock and barrel.

Let us dissect the matter in detail.

Brain drain problem

Already in April 2011 World Bank (“Malaysia Economic Monitor: Brain Drain”, pp. 12 – 13) found that two out of 10 Malaysians with a tertiary degree migrate.

In other words, 20% of Malaysians with tertiary degrees choose to advance the foreign economies. This data itself should have shocked us back then.

To understand the gravity of this statistic for a country, let us remember the established general fact that the Gaussian normal distribution well approximates the distribution of human intelligence in the population (see figure below).

Therefore, 68% would be average (in the middle), and the distribution is symmetric. So, this leaves us with 16% on the right-hand tail — those with extremely high potential for creating new knowledge, the very best.

And here we are losing 20% of those with a tertiary degree already in 2011. Therefore, there is a high chance of losing those crèmes de la crème professionals on a massive scale within this category.

And this has been happening to our country already in the 2010s! So, we should be alarmists already back then.

Education system crisis

Already in 2009, World Bank, based on its surveys, reported a serious shortage of high technical skills in Malaysia, including among the fresh graduates, reflecting severe problems in the education system.

This dynamic continued well into 2015 and till now. The TalentCorp has consistently reported an industry-wide inability to fill in the critical occupations related to high technical skills such as ICT, electronics, engineering and research consistently since 2015 until now.

Fair enough, in the latest World Bank report on Malaysia 2021, the need to create and retain high-skilled talents was underscored almost in every second paragraph as the critical obstacle.

One must understand that education is a social function to form a society, without which, society simply cannot exist! – July 11, 2022


Dr Rais Hussin and Dr Margarita Peredaryenko are part of the research team at EMIR Research, an independent think tank focused on strategic policy recommendations based on rigorous research.

The views expressed are solely of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Focus Malaysia.

Subscribe and get top news delivered to your Inbox everyday for FREE