[SINGAPORE] Renewed efforts to lure home Malaysian scientists currently working overseas were announced by the country's prime minister last week in a fresh attempt to reverse the country's brain drain.
The proposed perks include better pay, improved contracts and earlier retirement, as well as increased investments in research and development.
Speaking during a visit to the United Kingdom, Malaysia's prime minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi said that the country's losses, in terms of knowledge and money, were considerable, and that attempts by universities in other countries to lure Malaysian students were "tantamount to poaching".
Badawi has instructed the Ministry of Science, Technology and Innovation (MOSTI) to review incentives to attract Malaysian scientists working overseas to return home. The country's human resources ministry has already agreed to make venture capital, financial assistance and research development facilities more accessible.
Reports in the Malaysian press suggest that other moves being explored by the science ministry may include the encouragement of more research collaboration between Malaysians abroad and those at home. Such projects are a good way of tapping into the knowledge of the former while allowing them to continue working overseas.
In total, 30,000 Malaysian graduates are thought to work in foreign countries. Some have held scholarships in top universities overseas like those offered by the Public Service Department, but have decided to stay at the end of their studies.
"It costs the government a lot of money to send our students overseas," said former prime minister Mahathir Mohamad last week. "[Those countries] should pay [Malaysia] for having taken away our graduates since, by right, the graduates' training and knowledge should be called intellectual property."
Other scientists have left their country to pursue a research career in well-equipped laboratories abroad.
The country's efforts to regain its scientific talent started in 1995. According to a report in the New Straits Times, however, a scheme introduced that year managed to lure back only 23 scientists.
The current incentive programme, run by the Ministry of Human Resources, has said that a top priority should be the return of Malaysians with expertise in information and communication technology, microelectronics, biotechnology, advanced manufacturing, advanced materials, pharmaceuticals, aerospace and energy.
Malaysia's last national survey of research and development (R&D), carried out in 2000, indicated that spending on R&D represented only 0.5 per cent of gross domestic product, and that there were 15.6 researchers per 10,000 of the labour force.
The Second National Science and Technology Policy, drawn up by MOSTI, aims to increase R&D expenditure to at least 1.5 per cent of GDP, and to achieve a competent work force of at least 60 researchers per 10,000 labour force by 2010. These goals fall into Malaysia's broader objectives of achieving the status of a developed nation by 2020.
The above article appeared in SciDev.Net of 30 July 2004
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