Charlene Lin is a columnist with The Taiwan Times. Currently a full time student at National Taiwan University, her background makes her the perfect target the be ‘drained’ – recruited from Taiwan to work in more attractive working environments overseas once she graduates.
Brain Drain – Why People Leave
The brain drain issue has been disputed in Taiwan for a long time – the percentage of students who choose to attend college in the US, Europe, Hong Kong and China has been rising rapidly, and fresh graduates often tend to seek jobs in Singapore, or simply pursue higher degree in the US or Europe. Most of them expect to ensure their authorization to stay on in the country in which they study after graduation. Few opt to return to Taiwan.
Opportunities for Studying Abroad
Nowadays, most of the top students in the top high schools do not choose to stay in Taiwan after high school – they prefer to enter prestigious universities elsewhere – in Hong Kong, China, Europe and even Ivy League schools. This is despite the fact that they could simply pay a 1/40th of the fees payable overseas for tuition by easily entering the most desired departments at the best universities in Taiwan.
I’ve been keeping track of some of these situations for more than 3 years.
For example, the mayor-award (1st place in the class) student in own high school class went to HKUST (Hong Kong University of Science and Technology) she received a summer internship offer from McKinsey Taiwan, which no rising senior at NTU is considered capable of receiving.
Another classmate who chose the Rotterdam School of Management, is now working at the headquarters of Phillips.
Those who chose to stay in Taiwan don’t even get a look in. We don’t even make it on to the first rung of the ladder.
People may argue that the big names mean nothing, but the fact is that students in Taiwan usually don’t receive similar opportunities to be equally satisfied, or better by staying in Taiwan.
It has been said that the entertainment-oriented, peer pressured mandatory group student activities somehow undermine their personal control of time and limit their sense of self-exploration.
Low Local Pay and Unfriendly Work Environment
The salary of employees in Taiwan has barely shifted in the past 20 years.
One alumna of National Taiwan University who went to Wharton Business School after a few years working in Taiwan, then returned after graduation.
She decided to leave Taiwan very soon afterwards because she noticed that the millions she spent on the degree she earned had little effect on her salary in Taiwan.
She had no choice but to go back to the US again to help pay off the investment she made in herself.
In another case, a former colleague of my own chose to leave his company and move to Singapore, as a result of his boss always asking him to work overtime and lacking respect for his employees. Add to that the fact that work opportunities and working environment are better in Singapore and his decision makes sense.
“Those who came back to teach in Taiwan are either old or love the country enough to endure this low salary… it’s like we’re working for charity,” says a young professor who must remain anonymous at National Taiwan University.
Criticism Of Choices Made
People have been arguing that those who decide to leave the country are selfish or are making the situation in Taiwan worse.
The question in some cases is: if they never Taiwan, would they still become valued ‘brains’ of which the country would be afraid of losing?
Most of the time, the educational and working environment in Taiwan is not capable of hosting these brilliant brains well – Taiwan cannot provide satisfactory levels of personal development, opportunities and even respect to most
In most cases it’s the leaving mindset – to leave the comfort zone and meet the world – that builds these excellent brains.
They desire more growth, and they believe that they deserve better.
“The brains go to where the opportunities are to be had” said the president of Intercollegiate Taiwanese American Student Association, while a student at Yale University.
There’s nothing wrong in wanting to pursue bigger and better, however, if the government was capable of making the brains “flow back” again, those who are considered the “brain drain” might not be stigmatized or blamed for making the choice to leave in the first place.