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Hong Kong faces brain drain

Published on Friday, 10 Dec 2010
Illustration: Bay Leung

Hong Kong would lose as many as 30 per cent of its educated people if they were to leave for other countries, while Singapore's brainy population would actually surge by more than 300 per cent, according to a survey.

Gallup Poll's Net Migration Index report is based on a census of 350,000 people aged above 15 in 148 countries between 2007 and this year.

The indices - covering the gain or "drain" in the overall population, and the ranks of the youth and well-educated - were calculated by deducting the number of respondents who said they would prefer to move out of a country from those who would like to move in.

Gallup defines the well-educated as those with a bachelor's degree or higher. The youth group covered the 15- to 29-year-old population.

Among developed regions, Australia, New Zealand and Oceania would see a 150 per cent increase in potential migration, with a brain gain of 186 per cent and a 270 per cent surge in youth migration.

The United States and Canada - the top destination countries among potential migrants - and the European Union would also do well, with net gains across all three categories. In contrast, developed Asia's potential net migration would be flat, with a potential 20 per cent rise in its youth population but a 16 per cent brain drain.

The poll pointed to a potential brain drain across Asia, including Hong Kong, the mainland and Japan, with the exception of Singapore.

"There is a perception that places like Singapore and Japan offer a living and working environment with significantly less pressure than Hong Kong, thus providing better quality of life," says Andrew Morris, managing director, Greater China, Robert Half.

"[They] are seen as ripe with career opportunities while being less fast-paced and aggressive. They are [also] viewed as cleaner cities than Hong Kong and the mainland and, therefore, more attractive to those looking for a better lifestyle."

According to Gallup, Japan could lose 13 per cent of its highly educated people, compared with an 18 per cent brain drain in the mainland. Like Hong Kong, both South Korea and Taiwan could also lose about a third of their educated population.

In contrast, Singapore's population of five million would triple if all would-be migrants were allowed in. Even more interesting, the city state's well-educated people would quadruple, with the ranks of its young residents surging six times.

As expected, the results were welcome news in Singapore.

Dr Leong Chan Hoong, a research fellow at the Institute of Policy Studies, Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy, told Singapore's Today online edition: "It's indicative of the branding effect and our effort to make Singapore home."

"For the well-educated, they will also be attracted to a merit-based and financially rewarding tax-friendly, low interest rate climate and low corruption environment that are Singapore's strengths," says Pan Zaixian, associate director of recruitment consultancy, at Robert Walters Singapore's financial services and legal division. 

Morris says companies should be dynamic enough to attract and retain young talent. They must also offer a solid entry point and a clear career path.

"Large corporations could provide or bolster their graduate programs to better attract young talent," he says. "Companies need to offer fresh graduates an entry point and the opportunity to start from the ground up." 

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