S’pore loses 1,000 top talents yearly: MM Lee

February 13, 2008 at 6:39 pm Leave a comment

Feb 13, 2008

By Clarissa Oon, Straits Times

SINGAPORE is losing about 1,000 of its best and brightest every year and the numbers are growing, Minister Mentor Lee Kuan Yew has said, sounding the alarm on the severity of the brain drain.

And the main magnet for these talents is not regional powerhouse China, but the United States and other developed English-speaking countries, he told the United Press International news agency in an interview earlier this month.

Citing figures of Singaporeans who gave up their citizenship and took out their savings and CPF funds, he said this meant ‘losing about, at the top end, 1,000 a year, which is about – if you take the top 30 per cent of the population – about four or five per cent’.

Mr Lee believes this exodus could only grow because ‘every year, there are more people going abroad for their first or second degree’.

Some of these Singaporean talents head for China, but return eventually because, at the end of the day, they do not want to compete with the Chinese, he said.

‘You go to China, you’re going to compete against 1,300 million very bright fellows, hardworking, starving. Do you stand a chance to be on top of that pole? No.’

‘But if you go there as a Singaporean with a different base, speaking English which they can’t, with connections to the world, then you’ve got a different platform.’

In comparison, the pull of US is difficult to reverse, he said, noting that American firms recruited bright Singaporean students straight out of universities there.

After acclimatising to life and work in the US, ‘if they decide to take the Green Card and settle in America, then I think we?ve lost them’, said Mr Lee.

Singaporeans who do not want the stiff competition in the US go to Australia and Canada, he added.

The brain drain has been a regular issue addressed by MM Lee, who has repeatedly said that this is Singapore’s Achilles heel.

To stem this loss of talent, Singapore has wooed many top professionals from China and India here, he said.

The draw for the Chinese is that their children can learn both English and Chinese, while the Indians like Singapore because it is close to home, yet a step up in terms of First World infrastructure.

‘The trouble is many of the Chinese then use us as a stepping stone to go to America, where the grass is greener.’

‘But even if we only keep 30 to 40 per cent and lose 60 to 70 per cent, we’re a net gainer,’ he said. He said, however, that the Chinese would cease to come in 20 to 30 years’ time, when China’s living standards rise to match Singapore’s.

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Entry filed under: Singapore.

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