Although on the fence about the COVID-19 pandemic’s management in the country, Malaysian youths remain largely optimistic about the future. This is also despite persistent economic concerns borne from the current crisis, as many appreciative of basic state provisions such as healthcare and education, as their future life plans remain undeterred – based on highlights from the ASEAN Youth Survey 2021 edition by Redhill.
Now in its third year, Redhill’s ASEAN Youth Survey analyses the roles of Southeast Asia’s youths as key drivers of economic, cultural, and socio-political change. The study attempts to take a snapshot view of their aspirations and concerns on governance, the economy, education, healthcare, life choices and online activity –through the eyes of nearly 3,000 people aged 18-35 across seven ASEAN nations.
“Youths in Malaysia have been going through some of the most turbulent and uncertain periods of their lives. While 2020 was a watershed year for them, this year is when many have been adapting to the new normal – being highly aware of the challenges they face but working around them to carve a better, more certain future for themselves,” said Pranav Rastogi, Managing Director, Redhill.
Governance & Economy
Malaysian youth sentiment towards the government’s management of the COVID-19 pandemic has been largely ambivalent, with over 40 percent preferring to stay neutral on their thoughts. However, there is still some optimism, as there were over a third who thought more positively of the government’s efforts, compared to just over 20 percent who were more dissatisfied. This air of uncertainness can also be seen in the youths’ perceptions of representation in the country; those who were positive and neutral on opportunities for active citizenship and social advocacy were tied at 39 percent.
On both the sentiments of Malaysian youths on opportunities for public engagement and gender inclusion, as well as their ability to engage publicly on race and minority issues, the largest groups are those who remained neutral (42 percent and 39 percent respectively). However, there is greater variance between respondents at either
extreme – those who thought Malaysia did well on public engagement and gender inclusion opportunities (30 percent) outweighed those who thought the opposite (28 percent). In contrast, more Malaysian youths thought the government was not doing well enough on public engagement on race and minority issues (34 percent), as compared to the 27 percent with more positive remarks.
Most respondents (87 percent) across all the Southeast Asian countries surveyed stated that they are worried about their job security. While most of this group (70 percent) noted that they have enough funds to spend on essentials now, they remain concerned about providing for the future. Here, 77 percent of the respondents even believed that – to meet their financial aspirations – they would need to take on another job.
These sentiments were also reflected in Malaysia, with such concerns tied to local macroeconomic factors. This includes the Malaysian youths’ perceptions on whether their country has implemented adequate policies for post-pandemic recovery and growth. Here, most respondents at 42 percent were on the fence about the matter, but there were those more upbeat about the situation (36 percent) compared to those with a gloomier outlook (22 percent).
On healthcare matters, most Malaysian youths believe basic healthcare provision in the country is good (54 percent) as well as the adequacy of its affordability and access (55 percent). With the basic healthcare security perceived to have been met, it is of little surprise that most local respondents also had positive remarks on the COVID-19 vaccine’s rollout, with over 70 percent thinking it as being adequate.
However, when it comes to speaking about more culturally sensitive matters such as sexual health (even with more trusted networks), youths can still be seen as hesitant, with most respondents at 36 percent staying neutral (although followed by the 34 percent who were more positive on the matter). In contrast, there is more openness towards discussing mental health matters, as most Malaysian youths at 45 percent were more willing to discuss it with their trusted networks.
Education & Life Choices
Across the region, most of the respondents believe that obtaining both basic and tertiary education is easy – a trend that followed in Malaysia. In terms of whether Malaysia’s education system is highly competitive, most at 42 percent are neutral on the matter as compared to the 40 percent in agreement and the 18 percent that disagreed. Regardless, nearly half of the respondents believe that they are still able to handle education-related stress.
When queried about their life choices, the respondents were given a list of life pursuits to rate the degree of importance they attribute to them. In Malaysia, the highest-ranked pursuit is education (82 percent), followed by healthcare and personal development (both at 81 percent), career and family (both at 78 percent). To note, despite the ongoing pandemic’s challenges, Malaysians remain optimistic about their future – most at 46 percent were willing to travel internationally with lockdowns easing and think that owning their own home is financially realistic (nearly 60 percent). However, there is concern towards building their own families, with 57 percent believing it to be financially challenging.
The survey also found that Malaysians are digitally connected. Most respondents primarily source their news from social media (81 percent), and most at just under 50 percent spend between five and ten hours a day on such platforms. With this digital reliance, most Malaysian youths at 72 percent believe that there should be better education done to help people determine news accuracy. This is especially as most at 44 percent are not certain on whether national regulations are effective in curbing fake news and that, for most (46 percent) even their real-life political opinions have been affected by online political discourse.
Redhill’s ASEAN Youth Survey 2021 report will be released on 27 December 2021 and can be downloaded here.