Friday, November 28, 2014

[Friday Seminar Recap] Race, Education, and Citizenship: Mobile Malaysians and a Culture of Migration

Race, Education, and Citizenship: Mobile Malaysians and a Culture of Migration

Speaker: KOH Sin Yee  
(Postdoctoral Fellow, Department of Public Policy, City University of Hong Kong)
Time: 12:30 p.m., Friday, 24 October, 2014  
Venue: Room 12 Humanities Building, New Asia College, CUHK


The seminar
Dr. Koh argued that Malaysia’s brain drain and culture of migration amongst “mobile Malaysians” is a colonial legacy inherited and exacerbated by the post-colonial Malaysian state. Mobile Malaysians are the tertiary-educated Malaysians with transnational migration experience.

Dr. Koh collected data though interviews with informants in Singapore and the UK, as well as with returnees, and also did archival research. She tracked Malaysia’s brain drain and talent recruitment scheme. Many of the tertiary-educated Malaysians migrated to countries such as Singapore, Australia, United States, and the UK. The major reason for their emigration is initially for education. Many Malaysians, especially the Malaysian Chinese who have studied in Chinese schools, choose to continue their education in overseas institutions. Many do not think of it as a choice, but as normal. Some of them choose to reside in the foreign county and renounce their Malaysian citizenship after graduation, even though emigration will be considered as a disloyal act. To encourage foreign-educated Malaysians  to return to Malaysia, the government has adopted a series of measures, including tax relief and adaptation policies for the spouses and children. Yet, the racial policies lead many to hesitate to return.

Dr. KOH Sin Yee
Dr. Koh emphasized the role of the colonial legacy of racially- and languistically- stratified education system in the process. As Malaysia is a multi-ethnic country, the education system was segregated into four streams, Malay, English, Indian and Chinese. The English stream was the most prestigious and linked to better tertiary education opportunities, jobs and livelihood. Unlike the Malay stream, students in the Indian and Chinese stream are not allowed to transit into the English stream. To seek for better education opportunities, the students in the Indian and Chinese stream have no choice but to study abroad. Students may study in boarding school or a twinning programme first, then study for an overseas degree and look for post-graduate employment.

The attendants
Dr. Koh also found the Malaysians considered citizenship to be an ethno-national identity, instead of a matter of civil and political rights and responsibilities. Citizenship is also linked to the notion of loyalty, which is associated with the family, the place of origin and the ethnic group. Dr. Koh explained how many of the current issues stem from the facts of Malaysia’s history, from its founding as a multiethnic nation, the series of racial conflicts (including the Malayan union citizenship controversy, the Malayan emergency, and the race riots of 1969), and the resulting political alliance between race-based political parties (UMNO, MCA and MIC).

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