Migration and brain drain from Africa acute – Report

One in every nine people who are born in Africa and have a university degree is a migrant in one of the 34 member states of the OECD – the world’s most developed countries.

According to a joint report on global migration released by the United Nations' Department of Economic and Social Affairs, or UN DESA, and the OECD secretariat, there are about 30 million African migrants out of the global total of 232 million migrants.

The emigration rates of highly educated citizens to OECD member countries is a major concern for the developing world.

According to the recently published statistical report, World Migration in Figures, brain drain is particularly acute for small countries and island states in Africa, Latin America and the Caribbean.

“For instance in 2010, close to 90% of university educated and highly skilled persons born in Guyana lived in OECD countries,” the report revealed. The situation was similar in Barbados, Haiti, and Trinidad and Tobago, where more than 50% of tertiary educated people live abroad.

The proportion of highly educated people residing in OECD countries was also significant for Jamaica (46%), Tonga (46%), Zimbabwe (43%), Mauritius (41%), the Republic of Congo (36%), Belize (34%) and Fiji (31%).

According to John Wilmoth, director of UN DESA, more than half of all highly educated migrants currently live in the United States, Russia, Germany, Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates, Britain, France, Canada, Australia and Spain.

“In contrast, OECD countries as well as Brazil, China, India and Russia had low emigration rates of highly skilled persons, that stands at 3.5%,” said Wilmoth in a brief read to the United Nations High-Level Dialogue on Migration held on 3 October.

Commenting on the impacts of brain drain, especially on small developing countries with relatively few highly skilled workers, Wilmoth said the loss of human capital affected the provision of basic services, drained fiscal resources and reduced economic growth in some contexts.

Sharp rise in migration of the highly educated

The crux of the matter is that in the past decade, the number of highly educated immigrants in OECD countries has been rising sharply.

Theodora Xenogiani, an expert on migration at the OECD secretariat, told University World News that the proportion of tertiary educated migrants rose by 70% over the past decade, reaching 27.3 million in 2010-11.

“This trend is mostly driven by Asian migration as more than two million tertiary educated migrants originating from this region have arrived in the OECD in the past five years,” Xenogiani said in an interview.

The number of tertiary educated people from Africa who migrated to OECD countries in the past five years was 450,000 – compared to 375,000 Chinese.

While the number of tertiary educated emigrants in OECD countries has grown significantly, in some cases the highly educated population in the country of origin rose faster than the number of highly educated people who left.

“This was the situation in many countries in the Middle East and North Africa, which have invested heavily in tertiary education in the past decade,” said Xenogiani.

The rise in numbers of graduates in China, India and Indonesia also more than compensated for increased outflows of their highly educated and skilled.

Unfortunately, that was not the case for most countries in Sub-Saharan Africa and other developing countries, where the emigration rate of the highly educated was higher than the total emigration rate, reflecting the higher mobility of people with educational attainment.

In 2010-11, many developing countries had emigration rates for the highly skilled that were more than 20 times their overall emigration rates – Burundi, Lesotho, Malawi, Maldives, Mozambique, Namibia, Niger, Papua New Guinea, Tanzania, Zambia and Zimbabwe.

Cameroon, Ghana, Kenya, Morocco and Senegal also had significant emigration rates of tertiary educated people, which were about 15 times higher than for total emigration.

The mobility of the highly educated is also reflected in the large numbers of students from developing countries studying in OECD nations.

According to UNESCO’s Institute for Statistics, 3.6 million tertiary students were studying outside their country of origin by 2010 – a 29% increase since 2007.

“The rise in students studying abroad reflects the globalisation of tertiary education and the mobility of the highly educated,” said Hendrik van der Pol, director of the institute, in the latest Global Education Digest.

Gender differences

Currently 51% of university-educated migrants in OECD countries are women. John Wilmoth noted that the negative impact of emigration in most developing countries was more pronounced for women than for men.

For instance in 2010-11, the share of tertiary educated women living outside their country of origin was higher than for men. “The difference was 10% for Congo, Maldives, Sierra Leone and Togo,” said Wilmoth.

According to World Migration in Figures, a large number of highly educated women migrants from developing countries work as teachers and in health care.

Not all bad

The migration of the highly educated is not just a process of brain drain, contributing to the loss of professionals required for national development at home. Governed fairly, it can enhance socio-economic progress both in countries of origin and destination.

“Migration broadens the opportunities available to individuals and is a crucial means of broadening access to resources and reducing poverty,” said Wu Hongbo, United Nations under-secretary-general for economic and social affairs.

The UN High-Level Dialogue on Migration, held earlier this month, was expected to chart ways forward for global migration.