The Brain Drain: Where Does All The Talent Go And How Much Does It Cost?

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Professional education is a natural and indispensable process for the modern human being. In today’s world, educational boundaries or limits are nearly non-existent. Without a doubt, these global processes have a good influence on our knowledge of the world as a whole. It’s no secret that, in many disciplines, the level of knowledge of a modern student will be significantly higher than that of a person with an academic degree, say, 150 or 200 years ago. However, educational availability and globalization led to the appearance of related processes which cannot be evaluated easily, in terms of their positive or negative influence.

One of such processes is the “brain drain”. In short, it’s an outflow of educated professionals from a certain country or region. Donor countries of these “brains” suffer serious economic and cultural damage (as the leaving part of the population carries the education and the knowledge), while the countries sheltering these “brains” acquire skilled and cheap labor. In this article, we will talk more about the causes and origins of the “brain drain” process, as well as about the most troubled regions in this matter.

Historical background

Despite the fact that the principle of universal education appeared very recently, the roots of the mass migration of the intellectual elite go deep into history. In the 17th century, when the policy of religious toleration was abandoned in France, all Protestants (Huguenots) were either expelled, or subjected to repression on religious grounds. At that time, thousands of Huguenots were forced to leave the strictly Catholic country and flee to the neighboring states. However, many refugees were well educated and have played an important role in the French economy. An even earlier example can be found in medieval Russia. In the first half of the 13th century, during the Mongol invasion, artisans were sold into slavery. Therefore, many people were forced to go. As a result, for example, stone building ceased for many years and the production of glass disappeared, as well as many other sophisticated crafts. Similar examples can be found in different historical periods in many countries. As history has already proven, intellectuals tend to be in the front row during social upheavals, revolutions and other important and radical changes.

The causes of “brain drain”

As mentioned above, the causes of the “brain drain” are concealed in political, social and economic spheres. But what lies behind these terms? The migration of “talents” is influenced by a number of factors. Let’s examine the theoretical aspect. A joint study, conducted in 2000 by the National Fund for Economic Research and the Georgetown University Institute for the Study of International Migration, revealed a portrait of a country which is generally fled by both the university applicants and the already educated professionals: it would be a small country located on the periphery of an industrially developed nation. It can also be a former colony from where talented young people try to move to a former metropolis. The process reaches its activity peak during political instability and the growth of nationalism.

However, the truth is that the described model is hardly universal, as the trends of movement of the intellectual elite are also observed in some of the leading countries of the world. For example, a study, conducted by the Organization of Economic Co-operation and Development, showed that the UK is experiencing the worst “brain drain” of any country, as highly qualified professionals have been leaving in the biggest exodus for almost 50 years now. Therefore, about 3 million Britons are living outside of their historical homeland. More than half of them are highly qualified teachers, doctors, engineers and students. The most popular destinations are English-speaking countries such as Australia, America, Canada and New Zealand. Among other reasons to leave their home country, they blame expensive housing, high taxes and poor climate. However, it should be noted that the United Kingdom compensates the outflow of “its brains” with the influx of talents from Eastern Europe, Asia and Africa.

The compensation of losses at the expense of other countries is known to be called the domino effect. A striking example of this is the health care sector. The movement of health care workers is mainly based on the principle of “where the wages are higher” and on the following algorithm: doctors and nurses are leaving the UK to go to the U.S.; they are replaced by doctors from Africa; these are then replaced by Cuban doctors migrating to Africa. Furthermore, in the opinion of sociologists, today the “brain drain” process is also caused by the fact that specialists have enough funds to finance their move to “rich” countries.

On the other hand, this category of people can later prove to be useful to their historical homeland, since part of the “brains” return to their motherland, bringing along new knowledge, skills and experience. For example, according to some estimates, more than half of the high-tech businesses based in Taiwan were founded by Taiwanese educated in the United States. In China, most of the major Internet companies were founded by ethnic Chinese, also educated in the U.S. In 1998 these trend generated a new concept called “brain circulation”. “Brain circulation” refers to cyclic movements such as going abroad for training and further employment, and then returning home and professionally growing at the expense of benefits acquired during the stay abroad. Supporters of the “brain circulation” concept believe that this form of migration will intensify in the future, especially if the economic differences between countries decrease.

Geography and economic indicators of the process

Clearly, developed industrial countries, led by the United States, are the ones most profiting from the “brain drain” (in the form of cheap labor). Which countries then suffer most from it? According to statistics, in average, 30 to 50% of educated professionals from developing countries move to developed countries. However, in the opinion of the scientific community, the term “brain drain” is fully applicable to only five countries in the world: the Dominican Republic, El Salvador, Mexico, Guatemala and Jamaica. More than two-thirds of all educated people have left these countries. Some studies show that Iran also falls into this list. According to statistics, every year, about 180 000 inhabitants, including about 50 000 students, leave the Islamic republic.

In addition to scientific and cultural damages, these countries also suffer huge economic losses. The World Bank estimates that a “poor” state invests on average $50 000 in the training of each graduate of the local university. When this graduate moves, this money is lost. However, this is only the tip of the iceberg. The consequences of “brain drain” include the “blurring” of the middle class. As a result, the cumulative losses caused by the departure of one expert could reach $1 million, taking into account all the consequential losses. Thus, according to various sources, Iran, for example, loses about $38 billion a year.

Another state which suffers greatly from the migration of talents is the Republic of South Africa. After the abolition of apartheid in 1994, around 1.5 million educated professionals emigrated from South Africa. In particular, more than 45% of the doctors left the country. The South African Bureau of Statistics estimated that such a departure causes, in average, 10 unskilled workers to lose jobs, which seriously threatens the economic prosperity of the region. To stop this process, South Africa tried to convince other countries to stop recruiting doctors trained in South Africa. Some estimates suggest that the “brain drain” costs, the African continent over 150 thousand highly qualified workers and $4 billion in total economic losses each year.

In Europe, a large part of intellectual emigrants are from eastern countries such as the Czech Republic, Poland, Slovakia, Baltic countries and Russia. According to various sources, some 25 000 (data from the Ministry of Education of the Russian Federation) to 500 000 scientists (data from the American CIA) left Russia since the collapse of the Soviet Union. The Russian Foundation of Fundamental Research indicates that, during the first half of the 90s, over 80 000 scientists left the country and the direct budget losses were estimated to be at least $60 billion.

Recently, “brain drain” has often been compared to colonialism. Before, colonies supplied raw materials and products to metropolises. Today, these same colonies provide professional experts, in return for products created by these specialists.

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