A reader has recently posted the following comment in an earlier post:
I like to bring forward another topic that you could highlight in your future posts. I had the opportunity to befriend a TM scholar recently. After getting straight A1s for his SPM, he managed to secure a TM scholarship to further his studies in US. Based on his SAT exams, he was offered to study computer engineering at Brown University (an Ivy league uni, unlike some of his colleagues at preparation programme who could only manage to enter second tier unis). At Brown, he double majored in computer engineering and economics and graduated with a 3.7 CGPA. After 4 years, he was ready to come back to Malaysia and serve his 10-year bond with TM.Unlike our neighbours in Singapore where there is clearly proper planning in maximising the returns on investment in its scholars, there appears to be clearly none in Malaysia. Having studied in Singapore and having plenty of Malaysians and Singaporean friends receiving scholarships from the Government as well as the Government-Linked Companies (GLCs), they clearly do not provide scholarship for students just because they felt charitable.
To his dismay, he was placed in a department not of his choice. In addition to this, he was placed on the same level as a diploma graduate. The slow management and bureaucracy at TM only adds to his frustration. He tried to escape from TM only to discover that if he wishes to do so, he has to pay back the full amount of scholarship (not surprising). His colleagues however (MARA scholars and JPA scholars, the second tier uni grads) were free to go.
The above example Tony is just an example of another form of 'brain drain'. Yes, my friend came back to Malaysia, however the knowledge and skills learnt when he was in US were unrecognized and more importantly unutilized. And his case was not an isolated one; several of his other friends who went to Brown and other top tier unis in the US i.e. Carnegie Mellon, UMichigan at Ann Arbor were facing the same dilemma as him. Upon hearing his story, I personally feel that this situation can also be considered part of the nation's 'brain drain' problem. We have talented and skillfull ppl here in Malaysia (although limited) but due to mismanagement, bad policies and other external problems, we failed to recognize the potential that these handful of ppl could do to the country.
The progress of government scholars in particular, are tracked closely whilst in universities. Upon graduation, they are "enrolled" into special fast track programs whereby they are given a rotation of responsibilities into various Ministries for government scholars, and departments for GLC scholars. Upon completion of the job rotation, they are often immediately given specific important tasks and functions which positions such as Deputy Directors of departments within the Government agencies. Their progress and career path continues to be tracked extremely closely to ensure that their responsibilities commensurate with their talents and performance. With strong performance, these candidates are promoted quickly to lead the various organisations.
My primary school best friend from Batu Pahat, who entered Raffles Junior College a year my junior as an A-Levels ASEAN scholar succeeded in securing a scholarship from Neptune Orient Lines (NOL), Singapore's largest shipping firm to pursue the same degree as I did, Philosophy, Politics and Economics (PPE) in Oxford University. He rose to prominence very quickly and became the Country Manager for Vietnam by the time he was 32. (I'm envious as he is living life in luxury as a pampered expatriate in Ho Chi Minh.) And in between he completed his Masters in Business Administration (MBA) in Stanford University sponsored fully by his paymasters.
Another fellow ASEAN scholar who originated from Petaling Jaya received the Singapore Airlines (SIA) scholarship to pursue Accounting & Finance at London School of Economics and he has completed assignments as Station Managers in Europe and North Asia before the age of 30! He has since then served extended stints as special assistant to the Chairman of SIA.
My coursemate in PPE who was a Singapore Public Services Commission (PSC) Scholar was a Deputy Director at Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS) and has since left and recently promoted as the Senior Editor of Money Desk of The Straits Times. Even a Singapore Press Holdings (SPH) scholar 2 years our junior (also in PPE) is now a Deputy Editor. This are just some examples who I can recall off-hand. I'm absolutely certain that there are many more. In probably a few years' time, my peers would have risen to powerful positions in the government as well as GLCs in Singapore, and they will all be well under the age of 40!
And how do the Malaysian government and GLCs treat their top scholars? Unfortunately, they pretty much leave the task of allocating their returning scholars to the incompetent human resource departments. The examples cited by the reader above aren't the only ones.
The daughter of one of my angel investors graduated with a law degree from Oxford under Phileo-Allied Bank scholarship before it was acquired by Maybank. Upon returning to Malaysia, Maybank placed her in the human resource department to handling employee-related legal issues after not knowing what to do with her for a fair few months.
Another returning TM scholar from Oxford who graduated with Masters in Engineering was placed in a network division which was clearly under-utilising his talents and intelligence. After a bit more than a year of serving his bond, and multiple attempts to seek a more appropriate position, he negotiated for a discounted repayment of his scholarship. I was fortunate that he joined my company as an Analyst. Apparently the scope and responsibility which we provided him was that "good" that within 3 years, Proctor and Gamble, known for its strict recruitment criteria snapped him up as a manager based on his experience with us (sigh...). :)
Unlike 15 years ago where it was practically unheard of for the private sector companies to be offering scholarships for undergraduate studies, it is fairly common today with TM, Tenaga Nasional, Petronas, Gamuda, Astro and many other large corporations offering overseas scholarships. However, it is clear that many of our local corporations have placed much importance in harnessing the talents and skills of the returning scholars. Needless to say, for most of these organisations, a fast track career path for performing scholars is non-existent. It is interesting the these corporations are using shareholder funds to perform public relations driven national service and not to maximise the prospects of growth for the respective corporations.
It is also interesting to note that despite not having a programme to tap the organisations own talent pool, many of these scholars are slapped with a ridiculous 10-year bond which will mean most of these returning scholars will be 32 or 33 by the time their are "released". Comparatively, Singapore today bonds its overseas scholars for 6 years.
There is hence clearly a need for the top management of large local corporations offering scholarships to start taking an interest in harnessing the talent of its scholars instead of letting them rot in the storeroom. And if you are unable to fully tap the potential of these returning top scholars, then it will only make sense that you release them from their obligations to ensure that they can then contribute more positive to the overall well-being and economy of the country.