Thursday, March 13, 2008

The export of brains

Africa is often associated with the so-called brain drain.  A recent study by Prof Dejene Aredo estimated that this costs African economies $4 billion per annum. According to this study 20 000 professionals leave Africa each year.  That amounts to an estimated loss to African economies of $200 000 per professional. 
Earlier work indicated that 41 496 professional emigrants left South Africa between 1989 and 1997 — almost 4 times more than the official figure of 11 255.  That is close to 5000 professionals per year. 

It seems as if the brain drain discussion is back in South Africa. Watch this documentary on the brain drain in SA on YouTube. Although not only about professionals it depicts the black mood in the country at the moment.

Two points. First, the export of skills is not only a South African, or even African, problem. Israel, for instance, experience a massive emigration of academics from Israel to the United States (see study by VoxEU). The same study mentions that 73% of all 15 000 European Phds who studied in the States between 1991 and 2000, plan to remain in the US.  

When comparing African countries, several countries have a far larger emigration rates of educated then South Africa (see full study):

Second, migration of professionals is certainly not always bad, despite the general wisdom portrayed. One study by Michael Clemens on the migration of African health professionals paints a different picture:
The results suggest that Africa's generally low staffing levels and poor public health conditions are the result of factors entirely unrelated to international movements of health professionals, and that the option to emigrate has positively affected Africans' decisions to enter the health field. Bottom line: impeding the migration of skilled health professionals, by sending and receiving countries, does little to improve health systems or heath outcomes in Africa.

South Africans: Take an aspirin. When the headache has cleared, do some home work. We are a resilient nation. 

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