Brunei’s brain drain problem can be addressed

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Arno Maierbrugger
By Arno Maierbrugger

Brunei has a high living standard, its residents are wealthy, the country is safe and clean, all infrastructure is in place and all public systems work. So why would someone “run away” from Brunei?

It is out of questions that Brunei suffers from a brain drain in the academic sector and among its highly-skilled workforce. The private sector as well as the public sector is being jilted by trained professionals who, despite being born, bred and groomed in the nation, choose to live and practice their skills abroad. This includes doctors, lawyers, engineers and architects, but also graphic designers, ICT professionals, media and communications graduates who are seeking “to gain relevant experience abroad” before returning to Brunei to contribute and give back to home, but many of them don’t come back.

The Brunei government has repeatedly reminded citizens “to serve the nation as true patriots” and not to migrate with accomplished academic certificates to serve in other countries, especially when these certificates and the entire education have been funded by the Brunei government through scholarships.

However, skilled people who migrated to other countries (many choose the UK) argue that there are just too many incentives to leave Brunei. Someone can earn possibly 2,000 Brunei dollars a month in Brunei for a master’s degree level of work which would bring 3,500 pounds in the UK, which is about 7,000 Brunei dollars and considerably more even after tax deductions and higher living expenses. On the career path, the same job in the UK would pay 5,000 pounds in a few years but just 3,500 Brunei dollars in Brunei, job migrants say.

The Brunei government is now preparing legal action at least against government-funded students who refuse to come home after completing their studies abroad. For example, in 2012, 20 doctors and other medical specialists didn’t return to Brunei after finishing their training. This has caused intense discussions about Brunei’s education system and flaws in the scholarship process.

While appealing to Brunei citizens’ patriotic mind to stay in the country might be one way to address the problem, the other would be to rethink the correlations between Brunei’s education system and the labour market. There are too many scholarships for too few jobs, critics argue. Underlying reasons for the brain drain might also be that there are not enough career opportunities for graduates, because Brunei’s economy is not growing and diversifying fast enough to create these jobs. Labour experts say that Brunei needs to create around 6,500 new jobs annually and raise salaries in the non-oil sector significantly to eventually resolve this problem.

Inside Investor has just published its brand-new investment report Inside ASEAN 2013/14, which sheds light on investment opportunities in the ten-member bloc of ASEAN. The report includes a large number of analyses, interviews, background information, facts and figures and practical tips how to succeed as investor in ASEAN and what to avoid. 

This comment is part of Inside Investor’s weekly column series in Brunei’s leading newspaper Brunei Times and is published every Monday.

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Reading Time: 2 minutes

By Arno Maierbrugger

Brunei has a high living standard, its residents are wealthy, the country is safe and clean, all infrastructure is in place and all public systems work. So why would someone “run away” from Brunei?

Reading Time: 2 minutes

Arno Maierbrugger
By Arno Maierbrugger

Brunei has a high living standard, its residents are wealthy, the country is safe and clean, all infrastructure is in place and all public systems work. So why would someone “run away” from Brunei?

It is out of questions that Brunei suffers from a brain drain in the academic sector and among its highly-skilled workforce. The private sector as well as the public sector is being jilted by trained professionals who, despite being born, bred and groomed in the nation, choose to live and practice their skills abroad. This includes doctors, lawyers, engineers and architects, but also graphic designers, ICT professionals, media and communications graduates who are seeking “to gain relevant experience abroad” before returning to Brunei to contribute and give back to home, but many of them don’t come back.

The Brunei government has repeatedly reminded citizens “to serve the nation as true patriots” and not to migrate with accomplished academic certificates to serve in other countries, especially when these certificates and the entire education have been funded by the Brunei government through scholarships.

However, skilled people who migrated to other countries (many choose the UK) argue that there are just too many incentives to leave Brunei. Someone can earn possibly 2,000 Brunei dollars a month in Brunei for a master’s degree level of work which would bring 3,500 pounds in the UK, which is about 7,000 Brunei dollars and considerably more even after tax deductions and higher living expenses. On the career path, the same job in the UK would pay 5,000 pounds in a few years but just 3,500 Brunei dollars in Brunei, job migrants say.

The Brunei government is now preparing legal action at least against government-funded students who refuse to come home after completing their studies abroad. For example, in 2012, 20 doctors and other medical specialists didn’t return to Brunei after finishing their training. This has caused intense discussions about Brunei’s education system and flaws in the scholarship process.

While appealing to Brunei citizens’ patriotic mind to stay in the country might be one way to address the problem, the other would be to rethink the correlations between Brunei’s education system and the labour market. There are too many scholarships for too few jobs, critics argue. Underlying reasons for the brain drain might also be that there are not enough career opportunities for graduates, because Brunei’s economy is not growing and diversifying fast enough to create these jobs. Labour experts say that Brunei needs to create around 6,500 new jobs annually and raise salaries in the non-oil sector significantly to eventually resolve this problem.

Inside Investor has just published its brand-new investment report Inside ASEAN 2013/14, which sheds light on investment opportunities in the ten-member bloc of ASEAN. The report includes a large number of analyses, interviews, background information, facts and figures and practical tips how to succeed as investor in ASEAN and what to avoid. 

This comment is part of Inside Investor’s weekly column series in Brunei’s leading newspaper Brunei Times and is published every Monday.

brunei_times_logo

 

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