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Malaysia is investing in skills to beat its ‘brain drain’

Michael Izza, chief executive, Institute of Chartered Accountants in England and Wales

Earlier this month the Institute of Chartered Accountants of England and Wales (ICAEW) played host to a number of high-flying UK-based Malaysian students as well as a number of Accredited Training Employers and representatives of TalentCorp.

TalentCorp is an agency set up by the Malaysian government in order to help ensure the country has a skills pool necessary to achieve its economic aim of becoming a high income nation by 2020. This is a pressing issue for Malaysia, which has suffered a 'brain drain' problem for well over a decade. Bright, hardworking young people study for and obtain excellent qualifications, and then leave, never to return. Many countries have suffered this problem over the years, but it is the scale of the problem for Malaysia that is so virulent; the number of emigrants has tripled in the last two decades. Moreover, Malaysia is losing those it can least afford; the World Bank has estimated that two out of every ten Malaysians with tertiary education has gone.

Partly this can be put down to higher salaries in other countries, especially in neighbouring Singapore, just the other side of a causeway. The Malaysian government is working to redress the financial aspect, for example, offering financial and tax incentives, as well as fast-tracked residency status for families. However, the real danger is that young people do not feel they have a future in their country of origin. It is not that they do not see themselves as having the potential for rewarding careers, but that those careers are only on offer elsewhere.

It is this perception that the Careers Fair seeks to change, and this is a valuable tool in building a country's economy. All nations need finance professionals and business leaders, but especially those seeking rapid and robust economic growth, and by actively recruiting them Malaysia is laying a critical foundation for a prosperous future. Whether it can achieve its aim of becoming a high-income nation in the next seven years remains to be seen, but the signs are good. And they have hit on another initiative that will help raise their national profile, with which the accountancy profession is integral.

Malaysia is reinventing itself as an educational hub for the ASEAN (Association of South East Asian Nations) region, and particularly as a centre for accountancy training. Last month ICAEW signed a Memorandum of Understanding with Sunway-TES, one of Malaysia's leading international universities, to set up a Regional Centre for accountancy training. With Training Employers on board, the centre will aim to attract the top tier talent from ASEAN and China. If Malaysia can become a world centre for accounting and finance training, it will be well on the way to ensuring a stable and sustainable future.

Where countries are seeking to increase their economic growth, whether they are developing nations or trying to recover from a slump, investing in education is clearly key. This counts double for business and financial skills, which will be the driving force behind getting growth going.

Michael's previous blog post
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