Country suffers loss of locally-trained graduates

Concerns are high over the ‘haemorrhaging’ of Algerian academics and professionals to foreign countries following significant local investment in their training and education.

“Algeria has become a training centre for the world,” said Professor Ahmed Adhimi from the faculty of information and communication at the University of Algiers 3. “The number of graduates and skilled persons leaving the country to serve international educational institutions and companies is growing; and nothing has been done to stop the haemorrhage.”

“Ultimately high schools, universities and other higher education centres have become goldmines for foreign companies and enterprises to recruit youngsters without bearing the burden of their education and training," said Adhimi.

Algerian universities are believed to have lost tens of thousands of teachers and researchers during the 1990s, owing to terrorism that swept through the country during what is known as the “black decade”. Today, the loss of skills continues.

Tangible costs

Dr Ismael Chikhoune, president of the US-Algeria Business Council, has described the brain drain as an 'invisible export' which has cost the entire Algerian economy around US$165 billion. In an article published recently in El Watan, Chikhoune said the loss of skills to former coloniser France, for example, enables that country to save up to US$12,000 per student per year in education and training and represents a total shortfall to Algeria of approximately US$60 billion.

Smail Goumeziane, a scholar in economics and former Algerian trade minister, agreed.

“It is not only an academic phenomenon,” he said. “Local media have repeatedly mentioned cases of engineers who worked in national hydrocarbon and gas enterprises moving to multinationals based in the United States and Gulf states. The same applies to the national carrier, Air Algérie. Pilots, crew members and stewards alike have quit their jobs to join international aviation companies. Algéria Télécom engineers, after training periods in Europe or Asia, have declined to return to serve their local entities,” he said.

“Approximately 500,000 elite Algerians, expensively trained by the state, have left the country; they are generating real fortunes to their employers abroad,” said Goumeziane.

According to Chikhoune, there are about 800 Algerians working in prestigious companies in Silicon Valley in the United States, many of whom are engineers, carrying out research and development.

Others have acquired international recognition. According to Chikhoune, these include Lotfi Belkhir, who invented the world's fastest book scanner in mid-2000s, and Farid Mohammed Mazouni who developed a series of semiconductors for the ‘Spirit' robot which was sent to Mars in 2003.

Algerian-trained doctors in France

In addition, the French doctors' deanship council released a report which highlights the number of Algerian doctors working in France, Algeria’s former coloniser, he said. “The figures indicate that Algerians represent 25% of the foreign doctors who are holding various specialities and working throughout different French regions," said Chikhoune.

Chikhoune described the council’s report as “bitter” news for Algeria and said the government had failed to sufficiently incentivise its skilled graduates.

“The report is bitter. These creators of wealth are a real loss for the country. Unfortunately, Algerian authorities are unable to recover their elites. The country has failed to follow the efforts of countries such as China and India that have succeeded in repatriating their talents,” he said.

Government policy

“In practice, the government has not made the necessary efforts in terms of work conditions and salaries to attract their skills,” he said.

As far as the higher education department is concerned, the brain drain problem is beyond the sole responsibility of the sector. According to Professor Rachid Haraoubia who is a former minister of higher education and scientific research, all Algerian students and university teachers who received a state scholarship during 2000 returned home at the end of their studies.

Despite this, in a move aimed at discouraging further depletion of skills, Algerian president Abdelaziz Bouteflika decided in 2005 to stop awarding scholarships to high-achieving Algerian students in the baccalaureate exams, said Adhimi.

In addition, the higher education ministry has introduced courses in academic areas such as biotechnology, nanotechnology, space sciences, satellite technology, climate change and sustainable development in order to build the country’s capacity in new technologies and encourage graduates to enrol in local universities.

Although the policy has significantly reduced the number of students studying abroad, graduates still aspire to leave the country on completion of their studies in search of a better life.

Adhimi said the problem of brain drain requires a combined solution between public and private structures. “It should be tackled correctly in Algeria to create an atmosphere that encourages competencies, social justice, freedom and moral integrity,’ he said.