SOMALILAND: Government plans to plug brain drain

Somaliland's Higher Education Minister Zamzam Abdi Adan has suggested the need for a strategy to encourage students completing higher education studies abroad to return to home on graduation. The number of students attending foreign institutions is said to have soared in the past decade.

Adan told a press conference she was keen to learn more about the conditions in which Somaliland students in other countries live, and promised improved collaboration with them. Somaliland loses a proportion of its young people each year to other countries, and in many cases those who leave do not return.

Since the country regained independence as a self-declared republic (not internationally recognised) in 1991, ever-increasing numbers of young people have sought university education abroad.

Some students obtain scholarships to study in nearby countries such as Ethiopia, Kenya, Sudan, Egypt and Yemen. But there are far fewer scholarships than students who want to study abroad, and most leave at their own expense - and so many are from middle-class families.

The number of students attending foreign universities and colleges is believed to have doubled in the past five years, though statistics from student associations abroad put the figure at an increase of around 30% in the past 10 years.

In Sudan the number of students from Somaliland has more than doubled. While there were fewer than 200 Somalilanders in Sudanese universities in 1998, today there are more than 500.

In Yemen, the number of Somaliland students in universities has more than tripled in five years. In 2005 there were 40 students there and today there are more than 150. Similar numbers of Somaliland students born in Yemen complete their studies in that country, but they are not included in these figures.

An ever-growing number of Somalilanders move to Europe and North America every year in search of better study and job opportunities and living conditions, often encouraged by peers who have already left.

Others enroll in universities in Asia - with Malaysia, India and Pakistan being popular destinations, along increasingly with China's booming universities - or in the Middle East or elsewhere in Africa, especially in East Africa.

Many believe that if they do return home, with a foreign qualification they would stand a better shot at being competitive in the marketplace. There are also, however, Somalilanders who believe that local degrees are better suited to the needs of the marketplace.

Other push factors include the limited capacity of Somaliland's higher education sector to absorb increasing numbers of secondary school graduates, almost non-existent funding options for university students, and widespread unemployment facing those who manage to graduate. In addition, the country's universities do not offer postgraduate study programmes.

Somaliland struggles to attract foreign donor funding because its independent statehood remains unrecognised by the international community.

While the government attempts to encourage young people to stay in Somaliland to help build the country, and welcomes those returning with open arms, in reality there are many sacrifices to be made and few incentives.

Nonetheless, the past three years have seen an increase in returning students, many of them masters degree holders who are happy to help their people and country. With limited job opportunities and little investment in industry, many students prefer to stay abroad and many of those to return work for NGOs or international organisations, or set up businesses.

According to data from the Somaliland student union in Yemen, 15 students who obtained undergraduate degrees there have returned to Somaliland in the last two years and fewer than 10 have pursued further studies in Yemen or elsewhere.

In India and Sudan, where the largest numbers of Somaliland students abroad live, the number of returnees is high. Student unions report that more than 200 students have returned home in the last four years. Still, student unions abroad report that considerably more students leave Somaliland than return.

While the government wants to encourage more graduates to return from abroad, there are critics who argue that graduates from foreign countries have a negative impact on the socio-economy of Somaliland, since they further the gap between rich and poor.

According to the UN news agency IRIN, the country's ministry of youth and sports, in partnership with UNICEF, is drafting a national youth policy to be passed by parliament in 2011, focusing on youth emigration, unemployment, education and political participation.

The youth minister reportedly said that "resources focusing on education and building the economy would encourage young people to stay and build their own nation."