Brain Drain Or Brain Gain: The “Study Abroad” Generation


The increasing rate of migrations to foreign countries for study purposes is a worry to the African continent, not because it is wrong to study outside Africa but because it is an easy trap not to return home again, the temptation is there to build your life and family there, having little or occasional reasons to come home. The economical implication of this is that Africa continues to pay for foreign professionals to take the vacant places. Each year Africa spends billions of dollars to employ expatriates to work here when that amount can be invested in the recruitment of over 200 000 African professionals who now find solace in the arms of foreign countries, developing them with their brains and hard work.  Patriotism is a matter of the African mindset, we do not trust and believe our own, in the sense that most of these professionals were trained here in Africa but we don’t trust them enough to value their services. As a result they find their way to developed countries instead of enriching our developing nations which need all the help they can get to square up in the international community. So, clearly put, Africa trains her professionals only to be useful in developed nations. An estimated 23,000 professionals leave the continent annually. However this worry can turn into a blessing if Africans who study abroad return home to build up their nations.

Brain Drain

Brain Drain 1

Brain drain otherwise known as the Human Capital flight is the emigration of intelligent, well-educated individuals for better pay or conditions, causing their places of origin to lose skilled people, or “brains” (Wikipedia). It is the resultant phenomenon of losing Human capital to already developed nations, when the situation would’ve been the other way round. Africa’s best doctors and physicians are all based in the U.S and Europe, rendering services that could have had more impact in the African society.

Greener pastures… that’s the top reason for leaving one’s domain. Many Africans in diaspora are not there because they thought they would but life has made it so. What do you do when you literally know you are in a wrong environment? An environment where your future is uncertain and quite frankly does not have any slot for you. Moving to a geographical area that favors you becomes the answer. Economic and social insecurity is the major reason for brain drain. For instance in warring nations, the only option is to vacate the country and migrate to another place either temporarily or permanently. Such has been the lot of some African nations- Ethiopia, Sudan, Angola and Zaire. Ethiopia currently has the highest case of brain drain with a 75% loss of skilled workforce.

Brain drain creates a clear distinction between the haves and the have-nots. The world belongs to the middle class, so what happens when the professionals in that strata all abandon Africa in search of greener pastures? There is a gap which negatively affects the quality of leadership because there will not be a healthy bridge between the upper and lower class. Developments like that does not tell well on the economy and the living condition of the people. This is one strong reason why it is super difficult to balance up the economy of African nations suffering from the brain drain syndrome. With Africa’s literary giants in the likes of Chinua Achebe, Wole Soyinka, and Ngugi Wa’ Thiongo, who were employed by prestigious institutions of all times, it is crystal clear that brain drain is a reality; they’d probably be taken for granted here in Africa.

The Study Abroad Generation

african male university graduate

I’ve often wondered why Africans seem to do better in diaspora? In some African families it is almost  a necessity that children study outside the African shores for a range of reasons, starting from reliability issues to the more superficial reasons of having ‘the studying abroad’ title. In truth the alarming level of instability in the African system might also largely inform this decision. While the glaring differences between both systems are evident, some African educational institutions are commendable.  As a general notion in Africa, the certificates are perceived to be good luck charms to very many heights in life; perhaps that’s the reason some schools feel the need to drill students through the bits and pieces of the pain in acquiring it/them.

Studying Abroad has become luxuriantly affordable and common than it used to be in the past. From the testimonies of Africans in diaspora, we could blame it on reliability of administration, effectiveness of academics, a balance of both the theory and practical courses, NO unceremonious strikes, and probably no ethnic sentiments. I candidly suggest that foreign universities might not be as nepotistic as we are, else Africans studying abroad will not be annually increasing and their results might not be as colorful as they turn out to be. From the look of things it can be concluded that the study environment there is conducive and more accommodating.

Somehow we depend on the validation of the western world to take a stance in Africa; and that is why an African in diaspora comes home and with the accent and the certificate, gets the job right away. Africans seem to naturally have a flair for imported things, but ironically when Africans travel abroad to study or work, with little or no regards for your first class, you are tested again(owing to the fallacy that we are chronic cheats). In the end, Africans are the most educated racial groups in the United States so it is logical that they form the basic labor force of Europe and the United States. This fact is proof enough that Africa loses her brains to other nations and the “study abroad” epidemic is a potential means to lose more.

Reverse Brain Drain

Reverse brain drain 1

Hardship and economical insecurity has prompted the idea of brain drain, however it has both the good and bad side. Reverse brain drain otherwise called the brain gain is when these expatriated African professionals return home with their acquired knowledge to empower and help their countries. Though not a 100% response will be gotten but the impact will be felt if these highly trained and experienced professionals make the decision to finally invest in Africa through means other than the African philanthropic aid.

In 2011 the American government moved the motion to amend immigration policies that impede the power to retain top African students in Diaspora. If this is done, the reverse brain drain that we count as brain gain might elude the continent and turn around to compound our losses. The fact is that no African will actually consider coming back if by virtue of naturalization, the environment favors him. It’s sad but a lot of people pray ceaselessly to have an affiliation, a reason to be in the western world. Africa depends on Africans in diaspora to help reverse the brain drain in the continent by returning to take charge of the professional gaps in the society. In the span of 5 years(2008-2013), South Africa experienced a reverse brain drain where 359,000 highly skilled nationals returned for a work assignment; likewise India also is enjoying her brain drain boom presently. One area this phenomenon is visibly taking place is in the entertainment industry. Most entertainers that are making waves in the African entertainment scene are people who studied abroad or gave up their jobs abroad to pursue a career in African entertainment industry.

With the global recession and the recently growing business opportunities in Africa, African graduates see a viable option in returning home to invest their skills and knowledge in appropriate sectors. As a way of giving the African graduates in diaspora a good reason to return home, the New Partnership for Africa’s Development (NEPAD) and the Commonwealth Business Council came up with the Africa recruit policy, where professional African expatriates can be employed in Africa after working abroad.

The Role Of The Government

African Leaders 2

The much the African government can do is try to revamp the educational system by providing basic facilities that will encourage learning; be more supportive than they appear to be and create more policies that are encouraging enough to make Africans come back home to work and on a grand scale,improve the living conditions of her people. Top officials have the trend of sending their children abroad for studies and for the ‘better’ life, so who are the followers not to want the good things that their leaders have. If Africa wants to grossly reduce the brain drain tendency, then they have a lot of upgrading to do. In contrast to most African tertiary institutions, foreign governments have a good support system for her students. Through provisions of student loans and grants, flexible class routine and payment plans, conducive learning environment, more approachable and competent tutors- lecturers and professors. Studying abroad is definitely expensive but the benefits are worth it, that is why people insist on obtaining their degrees, masters, PHDs and so on from there.

The intervention of social services is still something to write Africa about, they extend their work to the lives of students who want to quit school all of a sudden, to find out their problems and assist them to fix it. That’s astounding for a country who understands the worth of education and its importance in youth formation. Such will do a lot of good in the African system.

If African nations take the education system a little more seriously, and make life after school a little bearable, Africans will have no need to doubt her products and there will be less and lesser reasons for people to reluctantly flock the embassies to be granted visas. While some African billionaires are seriously searching for what to do with their money, they can try assisting their individual countries with loans and grants to sponsor African youths who are interested in education but cannot afford it. In summary, a healthy socio-political environment is a fertile ground for economic growth and development, thus an attraction for Africans home and in diaspora.