A leak detected: the great brain drain

As geographical boundaries are broken by transportation technology, it is easy for anyone to travel or migrate to places all around the world. Good as it may be for an individual’s quality of life, this is often an anxiety-provoking thought for every country.

Human capital flight, or brain drain, refers to the large outflow of skilled manpower leading to a nation’s loss of intellectual and technical resources. The majority of the emigrating human capital are made up of educated students eager to find better opportunities.

African countries such as Nigeria, Ethiopia and Kenya often suffer the worst hit as they are subjected to high unemployment rates and better working conditions elsewhere. According to a report by the United Nation Economic Commission for Africa, since 1990 at least 20,000 African professionals have left the continent every year.

Inadequate education and health facilities as well as human rights abuse also force youths out of these nations. The Network of African Science Academies recorded that one-third of African scientists worked in developed countries in 2009.

“The brain drain is putting a huge strain on the continent,” claimed Deputy Director of the International Organization of Migration, Ndioro Ndiaye. He has estimated that Africa pumps in around $4bn to replete this shortage.

Iran, Malaysia and China are among the other top countries experiencing severe brain drain. Given the choice, students are avid to pursue their higher education overseas. Ironically, the knowledge transfer that unites the global fabric and meets the countries’ occupational demands buys these potential graduates their ticket to the world. The International Monetary Fund recorded Iran as the country with the highest brain drain of the 90 countries observed. Similarly, China saw 70% of its students studying abroad opting not to return to their home country.

Another dominant factor of the brain drain is the political uncertainty within the countries.  Rigid social restraints and oppressive conditions influence the diaspora of politically active youths in Iran. Likewise, the lack of religious freedom and corruption pose a similar threat to Malaysia.

What can be done to aid the brain drain is to narrow the gap that leaves graduates yearning to move abroad and nurture their talents elsewhere. African governments have recognized the devastating effects of the situation and taken efforts to reverse this phenomenon. Fundamentally, the desired improvement of this issue depends on whether the governments of the respective countries are able to make changes to attract and keep their valuable capital assets.


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April 2021
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