[Letter to the Editor] Addressing the postgraduate dilemma in Sarawak: Ensuring jobs for local talent

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Letter to the Editor

By Muhammad Khusairy Bakri and Ahmad Faisal Mahdi

The recent news article on the Sarawak government’s intention to send more graduate students to do postgraduate studies overseas upon the implementation of the free tertiary education initiative by 2026 is indeed a good initiative as well received a positive response from many Sarawakians. As well in recent years, Sarawak has seen a significant surge in the number of postgraduates, with many individuals obtaining Master’s and PhD degrees in Sarawak specifically, in general throughout Malaysia.


However, this trend has brought to light that requires immediate government response—the lack of suitable job opportunities for those qualified within the state, lack of development for those who possess postgraduate certificates, and lack in terms of attractive incentives as well as funding, not to mention equipment and facilities.

This article delves into the challenges faced by current postgraduates in Sarawak and abroad, explores the reasons behind this mismatch between qualifications and available positions, and proposes potential solutions to retain local talent, especially those current Sarawakians who possess qualifications who are currently abroad and currently seeking for a job in Sarawak or return home for the job with unavailable job opportunities.

Sarawak’s investment in education has yielded a commendable outcome, as evidenced by the growing number of postgraduates, in the fields of hydrogen, medicine, materials, etc. However, this success story is marred by the harsh reality of limited job prospects, salaries, benefits, etc. in fields relevant to these advanced degrees, not to mention politics within institutions.

Current reports indicate that many Sarawak postgraduates struggle to secure employment in Malaysia generally, specifically Sarawak that aligns with their qualifications, leading to underutilisation of talent and, in some cases, migration to other regions or countries in search of better opportunities.

The challenges faced by postgraduates in Sarawak are multifaceted and come in many directions. Firstly, the mismatch between their qualifications and available job roles often leads to underemployment and unemployment, where individuals end up working in positions that do not fully utilise their acquired skills and knowledge. This not only hampers personal growth but also represents a loss for the state, as valuable expertise remains untapped. In addition, many of our products ended up patented in overseas markets, which in the end, we are losing many technological advantages as well as economically secured income through those royalties.

Secondly, the salary range offered for jobs relevant to postgraduates is often perceived as inadequate and very low, especially compared to opportunities available elsewhere, i.e. Singapore and Brunei, where our highest and nearest job opportunities ended up for those postgraduates. It is known that 9 out of 10 Sarawakians who hold postgraduate certificates are abroad and unable to find jobs in Sarawak. This disparity in remuneration further exacerbates the issue of talent retention, as individuals are enticed by better-paying roles outside of Sarawak.

Thirdly, the lack of a robust ecosystem that fosters innovation and entrepreneurship within the state contributes to the challenge. Postgraduates, particularly those with research-oriented backgrounds, may find limited avenues to apply their expertise in a meaningful way, leading to frustration and a desire to seek opportunities in more conducive environments. In addition, this shows the lack of technological advancements as well as funds for those highly talented individuals to prosper.

The exodus of highly qualified postgraduates from Sarawak has broader implications for the state’s development goals. A brain drain not only diminishes the pool of skilled professionals available locally but also hinders the progression of key sectors that rely on innovation and specialised knowledge. Furthermore, it perpetuates a cycle where the state struggles to retain and nurture its talent, perpetuating the dependence on external resources for critical expertise. This is important, especially in the uncertainty of the global situation where war across borders can occur anytime.

Addressing the postgraduate dilemma in Sarawak requires a concerted effort from multiple stakeholders, including government bodies, educational institutions, and private sector entities.

Here are some proposed solutions: the government can prioritise job creation in sectors that align with the expertise of postgraduates. This can be achieved through targeted incentives for industries such as technology, research and development, renewable energy, and innovation-driven enterprises.

The government can foster stronger partnerships between universities, research institutions, and industries to ensure that postgraduates are equipped with skills that meet current market demands. This can involve curriculum enhancements, internships, and collaborative projects that bridge the gap between academia and industry. The government can also provide comprehensive support and resources for postgraduates interested in entrepreneurship and innovation. This includes access to funding, incubation programs, mentorship networks, and opportunities to commercialise research outcomes.

The Sarawak government should review and enhance the salary scales for postgraduates in relevant fields to make roles within Sarawak more competitive, whereas currently, Sarawak is the only state in Malaysia to offer low salaries for postgraduates as well as benefits and jobs. Additionally, focus on creating clear career pathways and professional development opportunities to incentivise talent retention. In addition, leveraging Sarawak’s strengths and unique offerings positions the state as a regional or global knowledge hub. This can attract talent, investment, and collaborations, creating a vibrant ecosystem that benefits postgraduates and the broader community.

The issue of postgraduate unemployment and underemployment in Sarawak is a complex challenge that necessitates strategic interventions and collaborative efforts.

If the Sarawak government is serious with their words, bring back our abroad talent by providing secure jobs and benefits to show if they are serious about their agenda. By aligning job creation initiatives with the expertise of postgraduates, fostering industry-academia collaboration, supporting entrepreneurship and innovation, enhancing remuneration and career development opportunities, and promoting Sarawak as a knowledge hub, the state can unlock the full potential of its local talent pool and drive sustainable growth and development. Stakeholders must work together to implement these solutions and create a conducive environment where postgraduates can thrive and contribute meaningfully to Sarawak’s progress.

Ts Dr Hj Muhammad Khusairy Capt Hj Bakri is a Postdoctoral Research Associate at Composite Materials and Engineering Center, Washington State University (WSU), and a Lead Research and Development Sector of the Association of Professional Technicians and Technologists (APTT) Sarawak. Ahmad Faisal Mahdi is a Senior Lecturer at the Faculty of Business and Management, Universiti Teknologi MARA (UiTM), a Chartered Institute of Marketing member.

This is the personal opinion of the author(s) and does not necessarily represent the views of DayakDaily. Letters to the Editor may be lightly edited for clarity.