Graduate brain drain: An alarming exodus | Pakistan Today

Graduate brain drain: An alarming exodus

Turning a vicious cycle in to a virtuous one

 

When young graduates of Pakistan migrate out of the country, the nation loses not only the best and the brightest residents but also skills which are necessary for economic development and global competitiveness. Each year, numerous new graduates are planning to move away from Pakistan, some of them having perfect fantasies — mostly stolen from films, their fleeting experiences or ripped off from the glamorous lives of their friends living abroad. As a consequence, the country is experiencing an increase in young graduates including engineers, IT specialists and doctors migrating to other countries.

This emerging phenomenon of brain drain is becoming important in determining the national development as the dichotomies between the developed and developing countries are feared to become more profound, leaving the developed state in affluence and the latter in abject poverty. With countries like United States, United Kingdom and Australia liberalising their policies for the admission of highly skilled professionals, and this demand largely being met by the developing countries, an exodus of the latter’s skilled workers is being triggered.

While some amount of mobility is necessary so to facilitate integration of developing countries in to the global economy, when this mobility grows out of proportion it can become a menace and could have an adverse impact on growth and development. For instance on some occasions brain drain has led to brain waste when Pakistanis invest in education abroad to gain a level of training and expertise that they never use in spite of managing to emigrate. This occurs when a Pakistani, after becoming a doctor, agrees to work as a nurse in United States or an engineer as a waiter in Australia.

Terrorist attacks have made migration more strongly linked to national security issues. People of Pakistan, being faced with future uncertainty or the fear of terrorism, prefer migrating to a place where they feel safer

Notwithstanding the adverse effects of brain drain, it is also believed that the current exodus of skilled workers in Pakistan will give rise to an increase in human capital in the country of origin. This is based on the argument that the number of the potential migrants in the countries of origin taking courses that lead to jobs abroad is greater than the opportunities that are available in the home country. This leads to an increase in the quality and quantity of skilled people who do not succeed in migrating and who therefore stay in their home countries, adding value.

It is important to highlight what is exactly happening in Pakistan, which is forcing bright young people to leave the comforts of their homes in search of better job prospects abroad. Terrorist attacks have made migration more strongly linked to national security issues. People of Pakistan, being faced with future uncertainty or the fear of terrorism, prefer migrating to a place where they feel safer.

The future does not appear to be completely bleak for Pakistan, as something remarkable is happening in some countries which is the brain drain reversing its flow. The reasons are fascinating and this gives a basis for Pakistan to be optimistic that the vicious cycle could be broken, transforming the balance of hope and opportunity between developed and the developing countries.

How can Pakistan stop the brain drain? The basic ingredient is creation of opportunities. Talent will naturally flow to Pakistan if it creates an environment for economic growth that makes life easy for enterprise, that attracts and facilitates investment and that nurtures a culture of achievement. Skilled people are drawn to places which offer challenge and possibility.

Pakistan must ensure quality of life to people. The reverse brain drain could only be made possible if the government ensures that there is a sense of peace and tranquillity in the country and good governance everywhere. For Pakistan, reversing brain drain would mean turning a vicious cycle in to a virtuous one. It will lead to overall development because if great minds come to Pakistan today, things will start happening tomorrow.

The basic ingredient is creation of opportunities. Talent will naturally flow to Pakistan if it creates an environment for economic growth that makes life easy for enterprise, that attracts and facilitates investment and that nurtures a culture of achievement

Pakistan needs to reform its business sector, improve its infrastructure and offer better tax incentives if it wants to keep its businesses at home. To tackle these challenges, Pakistan needs to address long standing problems such as corruption and political deadlock. What is further exacerbating the situation is the lack of planning and tracking associated with the increased urbanisation taking place in Pakistan. Local governments do not have the capacity to collect data and it is not a priority for the federal government as well. It is vital to address the political deadlock to passing laws and creating policies that will address the problems surrounding brain drain.

On the academic front, the government should take measures to improve the research climate. This could be achieved by offering more doctorate programs. Improving the quality of education, research, conference opportunities and travel opportunities may encourage the doctorate students to stay in Pakistan. The country needs to improve its education system at the undergraduate level also because lack of quality education at the level leads to youth exploring costly higher education opportunities abroad.

Pakistan’s policies now should include incentives like tax breaks, relaxed requirements pertaining to citizenship for foreign spouses and children and quality schooling with affordable prices. The country should also consider having a set of retention policies in place that give a boost to certain sectors such as agriculture to counteract loses and increase productivity, notwithstanding the flight of talent.

Pakistan should also adopt a positive outlook towards brain drain and gain with the help of foreign expatriate citizens who have developed skills in research that are needed in their native country. This move toward creating targeted educational opportunities together with political decision and investment in science and technology infrastructure provides a way of redirecting the brain drain. It is believed that such on-site programmes involving national talent at home and abroad, coupled with creative distance learning strategies, could create networks of expatriates enabling their countries of origin to gain access to a world-class education in specific disciplines in the developing world.

Sara Ali

The writer is a lawyer and a researcher based in Lahore.



5 Comments

  1. David Brunnen said:

    Sara – an excellent article – thanks. I would urge you to read 2 books.

    The first, Brain Gain, is by the Intelligent Community Forum (ICF) and you can find details via https://www.intelligentcommunity.org/index.php?sr… or my review of it at http://bit.ly/UzMtB1

    The second is The Resilience Dividend by Judith Rodin (President of the Rockefeller Foundation) ISBN 978-1781253588

    The loss of talented wealth creators is as much a crisis as a financial crash, environmental disasters, an outbreak of ebola or some terrorist outrage. Both books make the point that the underlying infrastructure needs to be designed to withstand these shocks.

    You are not alone – much the same concerns are being expressed in Greece where, from a very much smaller population, the recent loss of 150,000 graduates does not bode well for the future well-being of the Greek economy.

    Best wishes in your work.

  2. Triz said:

    I wouldn’t say it’s a recent trend. The terrorist/law and order has accelerated the pace. A point to ponder is that the only Two NoI wouldn’t say it’s a recent trend. The terrorist/law and order has accelerated the pace. A point to ponder is that the only Two Nobel Prize Winners from Pakistan didn’t live in Pakistan. One because of Terrorist threats and other because he was marginalised and suppressed because of his religion. We lost a Nobel Prize Physicist about 40 years ago when the guy absolutely loved Pakistan and setup Atomic & Enegy Research centers in Pakistan. A culture to foster talent & breed ideas is necessary and we need to be a bit more secular. The countries like US, Canada and Australia accept talent and don’t question race, ethnicity and religious viebel Prize Winners from Pakistan didn’t live in Pakistan. One because of Terrorist threats and other because he was marginalised and suppressed because of his religion. We lost a Nobel Prize Physicist about 40 years ago when the guy absolutely loved Pakistan and setup Atomic & Enegy Research centers in Pakistan. A culture to foster talent & breed ideas is necessary and we need to be a bit more secular. The countries like US, Canada and Australia accept talent and don’t question race, ethnicity and religious views

  3. Triz said:

    I wouldn’t say it’s a recent trend. The terrorist/law and order has accelerated the trend. A point to ponder is that the only Two Noble Prize Winners from Pakistan didn’t live in Pakistan. One because of Terrorist threats and other because he was marginalised and suppressed because of his religion. We lost a Nobel Prize Physicist about 40 years ago when the guy absolutely loved Pakistan and setup Atomic & Enegy Research centers in Pakistan. A culture to foster talent & breed ideas is necessary and we need to be a bit more secular. The countries like US, Canada and Australia accept talent and don’t question race, ethnicity and religious views

  4. Naveed said:

    Good insights into brain drain issue. It is certainly important to provide right set of incentives to youth to stay in the country. Social insurance, decent job oppertunities and abolition of VIP culture can help retain talent in the country.

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