The Bhutanese talked to some civil servants and professionals on why they are leaving for Australia and what changes they would like to see. While they agreed for their first names to be used they did not want their full names or the names of their agencies to come out for both privacy reasons and also fear of creating some controversy.
Why are they going?
After four years as a civil servant, Thinley is currently seeking better educational and employment possibilities in Australia.
He said, “On a serious note, I am going abroad to pursue a Master’s degree. It’s been almost five years since I graduated, and I feel it’s an apt time for me to upgrade my qualification to be relevant in a qualification- and experience-driven job market. On a lighter note, I am also looking for opportunities to earn while learning. And such a possibility exists in the destination country I am choosing for my studies. It’s like killing two birds with one stone.”
Phuntsho cites three primary justifications for his decision to study and travel abroad.
He said, “Although I am leaving abroad for my education, there are triggering factors for this. Firstly, the system in Bhutan has become so uncertain that you will lose your job at any time. There’s a veritable fear there. Secondly, any organization should provide an environment where its employees can pursue their dreams. This could be personal, intellectual, or professional development. I do not find these in Bhutan. Thirdly, the working systems in Bhutan are not effective, including the delivery of services.”
He agrees that, beside these factors, he always found that there were better future prospects outside, including in education, jobs, and services abroad.
Phuntsho said that although he wants to come back to Bhutan, that is not going to happen soon.
However, there are few who are going abroad to complete their studies and come back.
“I am going to Australia to acquire a master’s degree. I believe that education is crucial. We have opportunities to work while we are travelling and studying abroad. Why not seize the chance when it is presented to you?” said Dema.
“Even though my soul goal is to obtain a master’s degree, why not take it when the opportunity arises to do so?” she continued.
Most of the professionals who are abroad or are planning to go abroad are doing so to enhance their education and earn at the same time.
Apart from those, there are a few who are going abroad just to make money.
Karma worked as a contract teacher for a few years, and he said, “I am going abroad to make money.”
Letho said, “The monthly pay is hardly enough for my family to get by each month. It’s grown popular to study and work overseas. I’m drawn to it as a family man because I can grow and prosper alongside others. I therefore use this chance to educate myself and make money for the future of my family.”
Namgay, a professional who worked for five years in the private sector, explains his quest to go abroad.
Namgay said, “The work culture and the entire bureaucratic system were not what I really expected and wanted them to be. The dysfunctional reward system where personal affiliation is regarded more and official decisions are mostly fueled by personal agendas did not make me see myself progressing or finding contentment in that state of affairs. And another obvious reason is the low wages and ever-increasing cost of living. You work so hard yet it barely meets ends.”
A civil servant on the condition of anonymity said that people often cite managing out of executives as reason for the exodus, but the data will show the majority of civil servants are from P1 and below who are in no danger of being managed out.
He said in this category what made a big impact was the cutting down of DSA and training opportunities.
“The civil servant salary was never enough and so the DSA and training opportunities was a way to make extra money to run the household. Once that is gone without any pay increase then it no longer became attractive,” he said.
The large numbers of teachers, medical professionals and other professionals leaving also show that Bhutan needs to be able to better manage its professionals as many of them are not leaving just for money but also workload, lack of career path, poor leadership etc.
Apart from the above and though not acknowledged by professionals a major reason apart form salary and better facilities is also a herd mentality that has developed along with the fear of missing out.
What will make them stay?
Thinley provided a broad explanation of why so many Bhutanese choose to venture abroad.
He said, “Mostly, Bhutanese going to Australia are enticed not only by the opportunity to study but also by the opportunity to earn while they learn. I believe that a comprehensive salary package that makes the employee comfortable to pay his or her daily livelihood needs and give a comfortable life to his or her children would most probably reduce the rush and make people stay back.”
Phuntsho and Namgay, on the other hand, concur that the bureaucratic system is to fault.
Phuntsho said, “Making better systems in Bhutan would make people stay back in Bhutan. Our systems are deeply rooted in a hierarchical system where the boss is always right. This system must be reformed.”
Similarly, Namgay hopes for an improved, welcoming workplace where people may develop and receive adequate compensation for their efforts.
Although Karma wanted to make money, he said, “If we have access to a high-quality education that is recognized by prestigious universities like Stanford and Oxford, I could decide to remain in our native nation. Having a solid educational background can improve one’s chances of landing a dream career and making a respectable living back home.”
Similar to that, he said, “People won’t leave the country if there are better options available, such as a better career after graduating or better salary.”
Letho expects Bhutanese to have the opportunity to work, earn, and learn within the nation even though she is travelling to study overseas. Likewise, she anticipates a better educational facility.
A civil servant said that if one compares the pay of Bhutanese and Indian civil servants then Indian civil servants are basically getting around double at all position levels compared to Bhutanese civil servants.
Professionals are migrating abroad to further their education, motivated by the chance to make money and learn new skills but uncertainty and work place issues are also adding to the rush.