The Tempinis diaries

December 5, 2007

The Brain Gain’s Poster Boy Wants Out

Filed under: education, malaysia — Tags: , , , , — toru @ 1:47 pm

A very interesting article  from the Chronicle of Higher Education dated 11/11/2005 that I found here.   It seems that the person mentioned in the story Rajah Rasiah has moved back to Europe.


The Brain Gain’s Poster Boy Wants Out


Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia

Rajah Rasiah once considered himself a fortunate man. At the age of 45 he was a full professor at United Nations University, in Maastricht, the Netherlands, earning more than $150,000 a year, tax-free.  


A popular conference speaker and prolific author of papers on new technologies, the economist was often jetting around to the world’s capitals. With a Ph.D. from the University of Cambridge, his children in an elite private school, and two Mercedes-Benzes in the garage, he was about as far away as he could get from his impoverished childhood in Malaysia, where a knife wound had left him blind in one eye.

Despite his comfortable position in Europe, Mr. Rasiah was intrigued when the government of Malaysia began courting him. He was exactly the kind of dynamic academic that the government’s Brain Gain scheme hoped to lure home to infuse new life into its university programs.

With aging parents back in Kuala Lumpur and his wife unhappy living so far from home, he thought perhaps it was time to move back permanently. Considering how eager education officials were for him to return, even though their ethnic policies had once prevented a Tamil Indian like himself from advancing, Mr. Rasiah believed the university environment would be a place where he could thrive.

He had no idea how wrong he could be. “I should have never come back,” says Mr. Rasiah, who accepted a teaching job at the University of Malaya in 2004 at one-fifth the salary he was previously earning.

Barely a Pulse

Few of the benefits that the Brain Gain scheme had promised materialized. Though he was told he wouldn’t pay income tax during his first two years here, when he went to file his taxes the authorities said they had never heard of the Brain Gain program. While waiting for hours in lines to register his cars, Mr. Rasiah met other academics who were getting the run-around from government bureaucracies.

“People were already regretting moving back here,” he says.

Indeed, most people who returned under the programs have left. According to the Ministry of Science, Technology, and Innovation, the first Brain Gain program, begun in 1995 and run until 2000, attracted just 94 scientists, only one of whom remains in Malaysia. A second Brain Gain scheme that ran from 2001 to 2004 was intended to attract 5,000 “extraordinary world talents” a year. Fewer than 200 took advantage of the offer. Today Mr. Rasiah is one of the few known to remain in the country.

Money never was the issue, says Mr. Rasiah, who supplements his professor’s salary with consulting jobs at the World Bank. But he has been shocked at how unprofessional the universities are, and how difficult it is to work here.

The research environment barely registers a pulse, he says. There is little emphasis on publishing, let alone teaching. What matters is pledging fealty to the university administration, which is appointed by the government. “Malaysian universities are structured on the feudal system,” says Mr. Rasiah. “If you want to hold senior positions you have to hold the party line.”

With his elderly parents to care for, Mr. Rasiah will stay in Malaysia for the time being. But he is not happy about it. For a country that so badly wants skilled professionals to come home, he says, “they certainly don’t make it easy for people.”


1 Comment »

  1. The Brain Gain scheme is a joke.

    Like Mr Rasiah, many Malaysians have parents that are stuck like superglue to Malaysia and the talent retention situation in Malaysia.

    And I ask the question: which is easier to change, your elderly parents’ minds OR the whole damned government system?

    Comment by Implosion — December 6, 2007 @ 12:59 am

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