Hot Topic Series
Why are they leaving? Why should they return? How can Taiwan reverse its brain drain? Look into the past, the present, and the future of Taiwan's talent draining issue.
Hot Topic SeriesBy CommonWealth Magazine
The Past–The Success of The Returners
30 years ago, Taiwan sent a team overseas to study semiconductors and recruited Morris Chang back to the country, who became the founder, chairman and CEO of the world's first and largest silicon foundry. (Read: Time for Homecomings)
Ethan Tu, who founded the PTT bulletin board system when he was still in college, had a great job as Microsoft’s director of AI research for Asia-Pacific. But he resigned in April and left the United States, where he had been living for 13 years, to return to Taiwan and set up Taiwan AI Labs – news that stunned many in young ethnic Chinese communities. (Read: Time for Homecomings)
Ivan Lin, former e-commerce executive turned entrepreneur, returned to Taiwan in 2014 after working for more than 15 years on the mainland, now running his own lifestyle e-commerce startup called Add Ons in Tainan, his hometown. (Read: Fighting the Brain Drain)
However, can this number of successful returners meet the dreadful amount of Taiwan's talent deficit?
The Present–Brain Drain Coming To An Alert Level
“Every year before the school year begins in Taiwan, about a third of National Taiwan University students have gone away, and that does not include students who have gone to Hong Kong or China to study," says Jessy Kang, NTU’s deputy vice president for academic affairs.
"This group of people is probably the most likely to cut off contacts with Taiwan in the future,” because it’s when they go to college that people start building important connections to professions and the workplace. If the universities are overseas, those connections are developed overseas; returning to Taiwan might mean career isolation.
At the end of June, CommonWealth Magazine conducted a “Survey on National Taiwan University Graduates’ Intentions and Motivation in Going Abroad.” Online questionnaires were sent to the 18 departments that have the highest test scores required for admission. (Read: ‘Farewell, Taiwan’)
The survey found that 48.0 percent of respondents planned to continue their studies immediately after graduating or after working for a couple of years. Another 40.9 percent said they would enter the job market, while 10 percent were preparing for national exams (to apply for civil servant jobs). Of the nearly half that wanted to pursue a higher degree, only about a third (37.0 percent) were interested in graduate programs in Taiwan, with the rest wanting to go overseas.
It seems that the problem remains: Taiwan is no longer a land of opportunity in the eyes of NTU students, and they are continuing to leave for a better future.
As NTU students are widely recognized as having access to the most government resources of any students in the country and are being groomed as Taiwan’s elite, shouldn't the fact that they are leaving Taiwan at such a high rate be somewhat alarming? Maybe not.
The Future–Embracing Foreign Talents
“30 to 50 years ago, not even 20 percent of NTU students who went abroad returned to Taiwan,” says Jessy Kang, NTU’s deputy vice president for academic affairs. "But I think the situation now is actually pretty healthy."
He contends that the same holds true in every country – that the world has no national boundaries for top talent and that the flow of people is normal.
The key, he argues, is whether or not foreign talent is flowing in. (Read: ‘Farewell, Taiwan’)
To stem the brain drain, Taiwan’s government has proposed a “Yushan Project," designed to recruit international talent and retain local talent. By boosting funds, and providing higher pay to elite, heavyweight research talent in Taiwan and abroad, this Project seems to have its potential. However, what tangible help can be brought to Taiwan by these 'big-name professors' who are paid an annual “bonus” of NT$5 million for three years? It seems that this Project still has a lot of room for adjustment and improvement. (Read: An Initiative that Misses the Point)
While Taiwan is striving to internationalize higher education faculty, on the other hand, the country that boasts the most internationalized universities says internationalization is not their goal.
With the same size of Taiwan, but only one third of Taiwan’s population, Switzerland is also experiencing shortage in talents. However, this landlocked country has consistently held the top spot in the Global Competitiveness Rankings by the World Economic Forum. How could they achieve this? (Read: The Secret of the World’s Most Competitive Nation)
Nevertheless, Taiwan still seems to have its strength and potential. There are examples of foreign talents building a successful career in Taiwan, and even brining Taiwan to global heights.
Horace Luke, born in Hong Kong and raised in USA, had his most potential unicorn startup based in Taiwan. As the leader of a team of Taiwanese talents, he has shared his observations on the younger generation in Taiwan, along with the strength and weakness of Taiwan industries. (Read: 'Young People Can, They Just Don’t Have The Stage')
Fortunately, Luke is only one example among the increasing number of founders and entrepreneurs that choose to start their companies in Taiwan. If the trend continues, then not all hope is lost with Taiwan’s brain drain crisis.
So how can Taiwan reverse this issue? Find your answer in November 2017 Hot Topic Series: Brain Drain.