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Who benefits from the brain drain?

Ryan Hahn's picture

There is considerable debate about whether the mobility of highly skilled labor constitutes a brain drain or a brain circulation. A publication of the Association of Universities and Colleges of Canada makes it clear that to the extent there is a brain drain, then Canada is a large beneficiary (Hat tip: GlobalHigherEd). Between 2001 and 2006, more than 3,000 Chinese PhD holders emigrated to Canada. Another 1,200 Indian PhD holders emigrated to Canada in that same time period. I have to wonder how many yuan and rupees the Chinese and Indian governments spent on educating these individuals before they took their skills elsewhere?



Submitted by Trevor Stack on
I don't have a minute to look up any stats on this but I suspect, anecdotally, that Canada is a net exporter of MDs. The public health system surely doesn't attract much talent. Although we have reasonable medical research institutions, they are mostly publicly funded/operated. Wages tend not to reflect marginal productivity... When we hear about the brain drain in a Canadian context, it's usually about MDs heading south.

Submitted by Ryan Hahn on
Trevor makes a good point that Canada may be losing some of its skilled labor to other developed countries, particularly the U.S. In response, I would modify the second sentence of the original post to say "...Canada is a large beneficiary of skilled labor from the developing world."

Years before I had ever heard of the World Bank or this field called "international development," I interacted informally with many deaf people from around the world both in person and online. Consequently, my first introduction to the concept of brain drain was when I started to notice that many of the deaf people I met were the very first known deaf person from their country to attend university or post-graduate programs. Some of them did return home to work with their local deaf communities, but many are still here in the US, or in Europe. This meant that their Deaf communities back home are left with leaders who may have had ambition but more limited education. UNICEF tells us that, out of the 72 million children who are still not in school today, about one-third have disabilities (compared to WHO stats that say that 10 percent of the world's population are people with disabilities). This is due to a combination of factors including discrimination (some teachers simply refuse to accept disabled students into their classroom) and lack of accommodations (e.g., a sign language environment for a deaf child; Braille materials for a blind child; or ramps for a wheelchair-riding child). This means that many parents of children with disabilities in developing countries may have to choose between sending their child abroad to be educated, or not educating them at all. Wealthier parents send their children abroad. These children then grow up in countries where the environment is better suited to their needs and become tempted to simply stay on after they graduate. Thus, they get educated, but their similarly disabled peers at home don't benefit. Due to all of the above, I suspect that people with disabilities are disproportionately harmed by the brain drain problem. Although there are some non-disabled people who happen to be very committed to promoting education, vocational training, and employment opportunities for people with disabilties, progress usually goes much quicker when disabled people take the lead in creating change. This is most likely to happen when a reasonably good proportion of them have the education and skills they need to do exactly that. When the best educated people with disabilities from developing countries end up living in rich countries, the people they leave behind suffer both a leadership gap and a role model gap.

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