E.g., 04/17/2024
E.g., 04/17/2024
Firing Up Regional Brain Networks: The Promise of Brain Circulation in the ASEAN Economic Community

Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) Member States are in the midst of a historic economic, social, and demographic transformation powered by rising levels of education, a youthful population, more transparent government, ever-stronger social and political institutions, and crossborder migrant flows that have more than tripled since 1990. A small but rising number of these migrants are highly skilled. Valued for their education, international experience, and transnational networks, these highly skilled workers are being recognized by policymakers, employers, and other stakeholders as key potential contributors to the national and regional economic growth goals at the heart of the recently launched ASEAN Economic Community (AEC).

The report finds the promise of greater skill mobility depends on a proactive regional response to two pressing challenges: Brain drain and brain waste. With the number of college-educated ASEAN emigrants in Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) countries rising from 1.7 million in 2000 to 2.8 million in 2010-11, brain drain is recognized as an obstacle to economic and social development. Brain waste, or the underutilization of highly skilled workers, remains an understudied issue in ASEAN.

The authors examine the current state of knowledge regarding skilled mobility and the impact of labor force, demographic, economic and social change on mobility of skilled workers (referred to as brain circulation); and explore the challenges imposed by brain drain and brain waste.

This report is one in a series produced through a research partnership between MPI and the Asian Development Bank (ADB). The project aims to improve understanding of the barriers to the free movement of professionals within the ASEAN region and to support the development of strategies to overcome these hurdles.

Table of Contents 

I. Introduction

II. Human-Capital Development and Mobility: The Impact of Megatrends

A. Demographic Trends: Reduced Fertility and Increased Life Expectancy

B. Educational Trends: Rising Levels of Education

C. Economic Trends: Huge Wage Disparity

D. Social Trends: Limited Openness to Foreigners

E. Megatrends and Their Implications for Human-Capital Development and Skills Circulation

III. Two Pressing Challenges Facing ASEAN: Brain Waste and Brain Drain

A. Brain Waste: A “Sleeper” Issue in ASEAN

B. Brain Drain: Varying Degrees of Magnitude and Intensity across ASEAN

IV. Brain Circulation in ASEAN Today: Growing and Diversifying Flows

A. Scale: Greater Intraregional Flows

B. Composition: A Rise in High-Skilled Intra-ASEAN Migration

C. Direction: The Emergence of New Destinations for the Highly Skilled in ASEAN

V. Facilitating Brain Circulation: Three Steps in the Right Direction

A. Growing Awareness of the Role and Importance of Foreign Professionals

B. Signing of Mutual Recognition Arrangements

C. Expansion of Education Infrastructure in the Region

VI. Data Needs and Priorities for Informed Policymaking

VII. Moving Forward toward Skill Mobility: Implications at the Regional and National Levels

A. Regional Level: The Need for Quality Data and Policy Analysis

B. National Level: Addressing Common Challenges to Brain Circulation