Wednesday, May 03, 2006

Use incentives not sense of nationalism

The response towards the UKEC preliminary report on non returning graduates especially doctors continues. I blogged about it here and here and there were many constructive comments posted. Higher Education Minister, Tok Pa, also responded in a talk held in London and reported in the Star.

The gist of Tok Pa's reply goes something like this:

"Higher Education Minister Datuk Mustapa Mohamed said the students must have a strong sense of nationalism and patriotism, and should return home to serve the people and the Government after completing their studies."

Having attended some of these talks whilst studying in London, I am aware that most of the comments reported by our journalists reflect the 'official' part of the event, usually the speech portion. The more interesting part of the talk, by far, occurs in the Q&A session where students voice their honest concerns and criticisms of government policy and Ministers or government officials try their level best, usually off the record, to address some of these concerns.

So some of my criticism of Tok Pa's general approach might seem off base to some who actually attended the talk and heard him address some of the concerns I am about to outline.

First off, while it is understandable that Tok Pa, as a politician, has to bring up the standard appeal to one's sense of nationalism and patriotism, it cannot and should not be his only or main point of persuasion to attract Malaysian doctors to come back home.

People respond to appeals to nationalism only in very unique circumstances. For example, after the tragic Highland Towers collapse, there was a rush to donate blood to help possible surviving victims. Or during a time of war, citizens are more willing to accept certain restrictions such as food rationing or curfews. But these responses usually last only for a relatively short period of time. It is not a long term solution.

Malaysian doctors overseas are not going to come back in droves just because you appeal to their sense of nationalism or patriotism. Sure, there might be a few altruistic doctors that might return to 'serve the country' but surely, you can't base any sort of remedial policy purely on these kinds of appeals!

Perhaps it is the economist in me speaking but I think most people are generally practical minded. They will respond to structural incentives more than appeals to nationalism.

I, for one, would like to see the various ministries who have oversight on this issue to adopt a more honest and practical approach.

Tok Pa is right when he said that "As a developing country, it is impossible for Malaysia to match the salaries of doctors in Britain. We don't have such deep pockets."

For those doctors whose only concern is monetary, they are a lost cause. It is almost impossible for the government to attract them to come back to Malaysia. But I think that there is a large majority out there for whom money is just one factor out of many factors. An honest policy would be to admit to some of the concerns surrounding the non-monetary factors and find practical ways to overcome them.

For example, a Malaysian doctor who can get a housemanship position in a major research hospital in London or Manchester would probably not want to come back to Malaysia and risk being sent to a rural hospital that lacks resources. While the government might not be able to guarantee a posting in Penang, Ipoh or KL, there might be ways to ensure that those who come back and want to become specialists to be posted to major teaching hospitals in the urban areas which are equipped to train these specialists.

There might also be concerns in regards to whether a Malaysian qualification will be recognized in other countries. I don't know anything about medical qualifications but one of our readers had this to say:

"However there is one distinct disadvantage of local training. The UK or Australasian qualifications such as FRCS, MRCP and the likes are internationally recognized. Malaysians who have such qualifications and who choose to live in an overseas country may be admitted to professional bodies of the country either with no further examinations or with the maximum exemptions"

If this is a concern, can the ministries with the proper oversight (Health Ministry) and medical bodies such as the Malaysian Medical Association (MMA)come up with a strategy to ensure that Malaysian qualifications are recognized abroad?

Or is there some specific shortcoming with our local training program that discourages Malaysian doctors from coming back? Again, I turn to this comment but one of our readers:

"Coming back to the topic - I can speak for doctors only, but among this group, the primary aim is to get the best training possible. If going/remaining abroad is the price to pay, then it will be paid. Pay isn't among the reasons - we all know how much further our Ringgit goes in Malaysia compared to, say the Pound in Britain. If we had a proper training programme, and it doesn't have to have a long history (look at Singapore), many doctors overseas would jump at the chance to go back. Sadly, despite what our politicians say, our training system is NOT on par with those abroad, coupled with the fact that meritocracy is pushed aside in favour of... well, you know what it is, in gaining entry to such programmes. And by the way, whoever heard of the passing rate for postgraduate training being more than 90%?"

I am also surprised that Tok Pa didn't take this opportunity to reprimand JPA sponsored medical students who default on their bonds and not come home. Incentives do not involve only carrots but also sticks. If the government sends a strong message to JPA sponsorees that they will crack down on defaulters or bond breakers, I'm sure they will think twice before nonchalantly deciding not to return home. Another insightful comment from one of our readers:

"regarding bonding and defaulting of loans. there is no contract agreement available that will force any student to return home. i have an example to share. my friend is pursuing her medical stuides in london under a JPA scholarship. a value well over half a million, but i think more likely to be close to a million ringgit. do u guys know what are the clauses if she defaults on it and not return? she will only be rquired to pay a measly RM160k, which is nothing when you're a doctor in UK. what kind of clauses and stipulations the government creates?!? we need to crackdown on these selfish scholars who think of personal wealth and not wanting to come back and serve after being given the opportunity to study in UK for all 5 years of their med school."

I think that highlighting both carrots and sticks would be way more effective than appealing to one's sense of nationalism and patriotism. I would be very happy if the relevant ministries can clean up its act in this regard. It's not as if the powers that be don't know what some of the problems and concerns are. But the lack of political will to implement and carry out unpopular reforms stymie any efforts at trying to improve the system.

Finally, I hope that the politicians and the civil servants can get it into their heads that if they want Malaysian doctors to return home, they have to do a great 'sell job'. Companies who want to hire the best and most talented staff usually pull out all the stops for potential employees. I am not advocating for ministers or senior civil servants to take Malaysian doctors overseas to fancy restaurants in London to convince them to come back home to Malaysia. But a change of mindset and a better understanding of the thought process of a Malaysian doctor overseas would help the government create better tailored remedial policies.

I'll end with this comment from another reader:

"Human being makes decision on their perception of dreams and hopes not political arguments. Period."


Elizabeth said...

"she will only be rquired to pay a measly RM160k, which is nothing when you're a doctor in UK. what kind of clauses and stipulations the government creates?!?"

Starting two years ago, the government has changed the terms and conditions for JPA scholars - scholars must pay the full amount if they default on their bond. So... that's a step in the right direction, at least.

Anonymous said...

I spoke to a few JPA scholars overseas before. Most of them ONLY got letter from JPA after 2-3 years to call them back. Did JPA actually know when their scholars finish (or supposed to finish) their study? Did they monitor their student? If MARA can track down their scholars, why can't JPA?

Anonymous said...

Brain drain is very simple fact.

It is not about the money. It is about the ambition.

What Malaysia government can do? They are very happy to see this story.

No wonder 2 million Chinese and 0.5 million Indians had emigrated to overseas.

Good luck. Enough said.

Anonymous said...



Anonymous said...

"Most of them ONLY got letter from JPA after 2-3 years to call them back."

i know of some who are already back in malaysia for over 10 years and still havent been asked to pay back the loan.

these people make money today from qualifications that they still owe to jpa...what does that say about their conscience (or the lack of it)?

it seems tht jpa started chasing their scholars only in the recent years, at the time when the no of stundents sent abroad had been reduced, and diverted their loans more to those studying locally. The scholars they now chase after graduated relatively more recent and make much less than their seniors who are not even contacted by jpa...

jpa complains about students defaulting, it is the just students, or are they not doing a good job finding them?

Anonymous said...


This is Malaysia lah...!

Cakap tak serupa bikin.

If this is Singapore I doubt such things will happen.
They can even catch you if yiu "wee wee" in the lift.


Anonymous said...

1) it's ok to give something back, to contribute and to help the nation. But where was my country when they needed its help?

I know what JFK said, but most of us are just mortals. Why should the students be expected (or "urged") to give "back", when there was no receipt at the start ?

2) If those graduates go back for the love of the nation, will they be given a Datuk or a Tan Sri? At least these people shows the love with their real action and not just posting with a large corporate donations (which, really are the shareholders' money).

Anonymous said...

Good story to share, a friend of mine contacted JPA after she worked abroad for 3 years. JPA asked her to buy her own flight ticket as she should already enough money to do so by working overseas..hahaha.. In normal case, JPA will give 'business class' ticket to their scholar when they want to come back...It's about time to force their scholars back...I hope gov would not going to 'flood' our 'kampung' clinic with overseas doctor who can't even speak Malay...How are they going to serve pakcik makcik???

Anonymous said...

another story to share. PTPTN loan borrower graduates and completes his studies. he's a honest guy and wants to repay back the loan. but lo and behold, he's name is not even in the database! that's like giving out thousands of $$ for free. he wants to repay back, he feels guilty. but he can't.

Anonymous said...

I truly believe that money is not an issue for not returning. All of us just want a fair and equal opportunities.

Personally I think it's an honour to serve your own country, especially after she supports your studies overseas. Who wouldn't want to return home and stay together with their family in the first place?

However, those well-known facts are always deep in our heart, especially when you have left the country and took a wider view of the outside world. You will find that, it's not really worth coming back. Then you could probably have landed yourself in a dilemma, fighting with your conscience, patriotism and other issues such as fairness, policies, etc at the same time. We had a hard time too.

If the government are really concern about this brain drain issue, the only way, which is the best way i believe, is to scrap NEP. I really don't think that the Malays can't survive without government as their nanny.

There are plenty of smart and intelligent Malays out there who had achieved success with their bare hand. Even they themselves don't want to return to their homeland, because they believe that their true abilities will be oppressed by the way the society behaves - lack of competition.

Competition is a good thing as in, you have the tendency or motivation to fight for something you want to achieve. That is how human civilisation flourished to its current state now.

Consider communism, where everyone's assets belongs to everyone. If you know that you can get what you want without even putting an effort in it, and if everyone has the same concept in mind, what would happened? Why would have Soviet Union collapsed in the first place?

So my dear government, i sincerely hope that meritocracy can be fully implemented in our society. Treat all of us the same. What you are going to do is not neglecting the welfare of the Malays at all, just like we are not neglecting the less fortunate community. You are helping all of us, and that's a first world mindset.

Anonymous said...

Rather than get these doctors to come back, my suggestion is that next time the politician go tell them this in another of this session, the medical student should ask them if politicians in Malaysia give up government contracts i.e., all BN politicians cannot get government contracts. After all a minister makes more money than a doctor and have better perks as well a lots of power.

Anonymous said...

"way, which is the best way i believe, is to scrap NEP."

Oh no..not to scrap it but to change it so that the weakest of the society get a chance to be trained, educated (force if necessary so they can at least read and right and understand basic laws) and helped to advance ,regardless of race or quota.

Anonymous said...

Malaysia has been very kind in sponsoring many students to study at overseas. Since the exchange rate is very high, the amounts pledged on each students can be very substantial. We are talking about at least RM200k for 3 years first degree program. Much higher for medical degree and postgraduate students.
Almost all the first degree and some of the postgraduates students sponsored has yet to contribute to the nation (actual working) before being given the scholarship. As such, i offer two suggestions:
[a] Scholarships recipients for pre-U and first degree education should pursue their study at local public universities. Or perhaps at relatively cheaper destinations (Singapore, Indonesia, Russia).
[b] Sponsorhip for postgrads to be channeled exclusively to government servants who has contributed at least 3 years of service. These graduates should preferably positioned at countries which offered the best possible training. Should these graduates later refused to come back or pay back the scholarship, at least Malaysia has tapped into their potential earlier, and perhaps into their savings (as in EPF) too.

Anonymous said...

You don't have to change the NEP, not just yet coz they're not ready...

This is what I think...

Money is the main element. Just look at all the disparities here, everything has got to do with money statistics.

The riots in 1969 has everything to do with money statistics.

The federal constitution has rules (special privileges) to ensure specific race has an advantage in terms of the sharing of the economical pie of the country. Again, money.

Vision 2020, the gov's effort to develop bangsa malaysia, all effort has been put in just to make sure the malays are spoon fed so that the average income of the malays will be on par with the chinese. Again, it's about money statistics. However, spoon feeding is a wrong method to achieve the goal by 2020.

We can't demand equal opportunity based on merits, it will not happen at least for another 20 years. After 2020, with the current mentality, little hopes I have.

It is either draining the non-prefered-race's or the prefered-race's. This is a win-lose situation we are facing now.

Speaking of which, the government often look at the disparity of income between the malays and the rests.

The goal is to achieve zero income gap between the malay and the rests, is also one of the national goals.

This leads to the demand of increasing the economical pie for the malays and demanding of more privileges of the malays. Hence the NEP.

And perhaps the delay of Wawasan 2020 if the government has not tackled the right area for improvement in order to achieve what she suppose to achieve.

In the average income perspective, Wawasan 2020 will not realise its dream, never and ever, if the gov is not doing anything positive about the QUALITY and EFFICIENCY of its workforce, now mostly malays. Only when they are as efficient and productive, then it will be justifiable for the gov to have a standard salary rating on par with the private sector.

More than 60% of the population are malays. 99% gov servants are malays. The average salary of gov servants will never be on par with the employees of the private companies if they are not as efficient and productive as the private sectors.

Hence by 2020, the average salary of the malays (where most of them are in public sectors) will be on par with the chinese (where most of them are in the private sectors) if the gov is more pro-active in revenue generation.

Hence the gov's move to acquire private companies, increases the revenue. But positive acquisitions have to go along with positive training programs, motivation, and character building.

Calling back all malaysian doctors from overseas, where money is the main concern, will only happen if they have yet to setup a family overseas and is given an opportunity to setup medical centres here, where the government has a stake in it (she shall be the main investor).

Doing that, the NEP, the federal consitution, the privileges of the malays can remain unchanged, the doctors will get good pay and good bonuses. The gov get good revenue from this. This is a win-win situation the gov can consider.

Anonymous said...

money is not the main problem, although it is a significant one. ask any malaysia why they don't wanna come back and u'll get the same answers.

having lived in a developed nation, these graduates are already accustomed to a higher quality of life. doctors don't do 36-hr shifts, better working conditions, transparency in promtional exercises, and the list goes on. yes, most of them will tell yu that discrimination does occur overseas, and that promotions are always biased to locals. but honestly, these very same people don't mind being discriminated in such conditions then to be discriminated in malaysia as citizens. that's even worst, in my opinion. and the matter is made worst due to the fact that these discriminatory policies are blindingly obivous. ask any joe public and they'd rant about it on and on.

the problems we face day in day out all comes down to the same problem. stop discriminating its citizens. open up markets. more transparency and accountability.

when we finally do achieve all these, then the problems will solve itself out. in the context of education, scholarships will be given to deserving students based on need and merit, and without seeing creed, religion, or colour. government departments will improve its internal policies especially in bond and contract agreements. all this will accumulate to us having a stronger economy, higher quality of life. and this will ultimately lure our top brains back to malaysia.

Anonymous said...

I asked a married friend, who works in Singapore, he is PR there, why he doesn't want to come back to Malaysia.

"If I come back, I can't get the same income I'm getting now, and I have so much commitments already", he said.

"...but I will retire in Malaysia coz that's where all my families live" he continued.

I asked, "Are you concerned about the discrimination practice in the gov sector?"

"As for me, I'm not concerned because even if I come back, I'll join the private sector. In the private sector, promotion is quite fair. However, I have concerns over my children's education."

Asked an unmarried friend.

"Do you intend to come back? You've been there for 3 years already."

"Who can afford to pay my salary? Also, I brought few houses in Seremban"

I know a few malaysians who work overseas, but send back money to their family members to buy properties.

Discrimination must be stopped, but don't you agree everybody works because of money. As long as out there the package is more lucrative, good brains will go out, no matter how fair our system is, if the pay is not lucrative enough, what makes you think the good brains will stay?

The same thing happen within the same country. Example, just talk about two private companies, practice equal opportunities, fair treatment, does not discriminate, if the other company offer better remuneration, he would go.

So same thing if Malaysia overhaul it's policy and make it the same with Singapore, except pay wise, we will still loose to Singapore.

Anonymous said...

Talking about discrimination, wasn't you guys who thinks you are smart have already discriminate against the stupid? They are stupid but they are also human and have dignity, you know or not!

Anonymous said...

To anon above,

how is it that we have discriminated against "the stupid"??

Anonymous said...

Dear, Anon Wed May 03, 10:57:22 PM

Talking about dignity, certainly everyone has it. However, who is the one to blame if we have such a bias against them? Either they themselves did nothing to prove that they have it or the government made them lost their dignity. It is just that simple and straight.

Somehow, i feel that you are just being sarcastic. You have directly refer them as "stupid" and that is obvious=D

Anonymous said...

Changes are taking place around the world. Malaysians, like other people, must have felt the heat arising from these changes. The escalation of oil prices and avian flu are good examples. We know that these changes require our best brains to jointly work out high-quality long-term farsighted solutions that will ensure the well-being of both the present and future generations. Malaysia will be doomed to fail and Malaysians, irrespective their ethnic origins, will suffer if such solutions are not put in place today. Our country is small with limited resources, but if we count on foreigners to provide the solutions, we will end up paying a very high price for it. A sense of urgency must prevail. What happened at KTM on April 30 was a case in point. On that day, I was at the Mid Valley train station with my family. The sign showed the destination as "Rawang", but in fact, due to an undisclosed problem, the train could only move between the Mid Valley Station and the Central Station. I saw with my own eyes that a worried Malay lady who had made attempts to get down at the Mid Valley Station was pushed back into the coach by those trying to board the train. A young Chinese kid was squeezed between adults while his father was dangerously holding his hand from behind. An Indian man tried hard to pull his old mother between passengers inside the coach. I was told by one passenger that the situation had been equally chaotic in the few days before April 30. For many, it was like a rehearsal for a refugee exodus. There was no sight of station master or security personnel. If Malaysians were to survive, we should aim to be a first-rate country, which is marked by highly organized and well coodinated activities. The includes the administration of scholarship agreements.

Anonymous said...

As written before, “My fellow Malaysians, ask not what your country can do for you: Ask what you can do for your country.” - If you, especially non-Malays, wish to work with various government or government-related organizations and agencies, forget about it, for you will be ignored most of the times or you will get a lousy deal working under third-world mentality.

In fact, our government is doing many non-Malays a fovour by toughening them up to be independent so that they work in the private sector or overseas and earn foreign currencies.

On the other hand, we have some privileged people or insiders whose motto is “My fellow Malaysians, ask not what your country can offer you, ask not what you can do for your country: Ask what and how much you can squeeze from your country.” In fact, millions and billions!

C'est la vie.

Anonymous said...

Scholarships are actually really easy to be awarded and adminstered. If our government officials are incapable and simply incompetent and inefficient, I suggest they let me or Tony do it and I am pretty sure the defaulters will get a brush with the law very easily.

The fact that they are not doing so because oh well... I am pretty sure the officials up there have "friends or relatives" who have simply taken the defaulting route...

Anonymous said...

I guess is the "tidak apa" attitude that has been instil in them all this while. Thinking like

i) Civil servant and politicians

"It's not my money, why bother?"
"I still get my pay whether i work or not what"
"I got my piece of cake already, the rest no my business"

ii) They
"Why work so hard when you can get what you want?"
"Got people (tax-payer) support us, so don't worry"
"Wah, the more children i have, the more the incentives i get"

Anyone wanna add on the thoughts they might have?

Anonymous said...

As many doctors leave malaysia every year, there are more illegal indonesian workers coming in and became citizens so easily.

The country does not only flush away good brains but also refill with.... (sigh)... this is an insane country.

Anonymous said...

Nono, this is not insane. We did great things to the world you know, like providing brains to others, and accept rubbish from others. That's a Malaysia boleh!

Anonymous said...

Tok Pa is right when he said that "As a developing country, it is impossible for Malaysia to match the salaries of doctors in Britain. We don't have such deep pockets."


His statement should have been:
"As a developing country, it is possible for Malaysia to match the salaries of doctors in Britain. We have such deep pockets after we have gotten rid of the incompetent and the lazy."

Anonymous said...

I'm one of the many Malaysian doctors in the UK. During the training years, UK's pay is definitely a lot higher. And the working hours is a bit less which is ideal for those who are pursuing a subspecialty interest (more time for reading, research and professional examinations). The extra money is also required to pay for the examination fees, courses etc. However, after the training years, many Malaysian doctors here are keen to consider going back to Malaysia.The pay is not so much of an issue now as UK pay for senior doctors is not much higher than that of Malaysia (taken in terms of the living cost). The main issue is career enhancement, children's education, safety, politics etc. Perhaps the government should address the issues specific to these two groups of doctors (junior and senior), rather than just talking about patriotism.