Us, Draining Brains


by Cesar Almeida, United World College Maastricht
22nd May, 2019


According to economist Frédéric Docquier’s definition of brain drain in the New Palgrave Dictionary of Economics, the term brain drain designates the international transfer of human capital, applying mainly to the migration of relatively highly educated individuals from developing to developed countries, but not excluding the migration of students to educational institutions abroad. It is arguable whether we, as UWC students could be considered part of the migrating demographic that comprises the worldwide brain drain, or not. It can also be further debated whether the mobilization of human capital is harmful to the economy of the country of origin or, vice versa, boost, to a certain extent it’s socio-economic growth as recent studies have proven. Indeed, in a globalized world where interconnectivity facilitates the flow of opportunities more than ever, one could argue that the migration of people from one country to another is natural and even favorable to the world’s innovation and creative future.
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I believe, nonetheless, that it is important for us, as students who live away from home, to question ourselves if our departure from our former schools will have a certain impact on our homeland.
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In order to discuss some important causes and consequences of this phenomena, I believe it’s necessary to look at the big picture. For instance, in the United States of America (which receives the largest number of foreign students and professionals per year) as of 2016, 30.0% of immigrants ages 25 and older had a bachelor’s degree or higher, compared with the 31.6% of the U.S. born students. The demographic was comprised mainly of students from regions such as South and East Asia and the Middle East, according to the Pew Research Center. In addition, in his research: The brain drain from developing countries, Docquier states that as of 2000, migration from developing to developed countries represented 34% of the total migration worldwide, in numbers that would equal roughly 55 million people, among which 60% where displacing in order to seek better jobs and education.
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This demographic phenomenon is caused by a push-pull dualism constituted by many factors, which first pull students and professionals to look for better opportunities abroad. From better economic prospects and better working conditions to political stability and superior allocation of substantial funds for research. Complemented with push factors from their origin countries, for instance, unemployment, lack of scientific tradition and culture, low rate of economic growth, corruption etc.
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Brain drain, also called human capital flight, is a rather contested concept. On one side, it could be argued that it stimulates education, induces remittance flows (money sent by the migrant to a receiver in the country of origin), reduces international transactions costs, and generates benefits in source countries from both returnees and the diaspora abroad. On the other hand, if the emigration from developing nations reaches above a certain level, it ends up reducing the stock of human capital and induces occupational distortions. In other words, developing countries lose valuable workforce, which hinders their development and reduces a country’s growth potential. Certainly, when the most prominent or salient professionals leave a country, there is a lack of mentorship to the next educated generation, which impacts both students and society as a whole.
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In fact, you may find above a reason for why you left, or perhaps have your own for joining UWC Maastricht. What I believe we should all reflect upon is our reason for applying to a high school outside our home country and our plans for the future.
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We often preach love to our countries, assuming our earned right to represent our culture and values and defend or elevate the merits and accomplishments of our fellow countrymen, but when you stop and think about it, I can say from experience, that most of the outstanding Mexican artists, writers, scientists and stars started their careers and achieved their success abroad. Five out of the five Mexican-won Oscars for Best Film Director were directors who wrote, produced and shot their movies abroad. Most famous Mexican stand-up comedian, Gabriel Iglesias, lives and performs in the US. Even a former Mexican president, Felipe Calderón, works as an Economics researcher in different Universities in the US and Europe.
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While I believe it is not their fault to strive for better opportunities outside a country that didn’t believe in nor support their projects and careers, in fact, I admire their ambitions and perseverance to get to the positions where they are now. I often wonder, whether I truly love my country or not, if I, along with more than 40,000 Mexicans, have left in pursuit of a better life, be it as students or professionals.
I think that we should show our attachment and love to our country, perhaps not by coming back and directly contributing to its economy, but instead acknowledging our departure and doing what is within our reach and beyond in order to soften the impact of our physical distance from home, events such as cultural event with the aim of breaking stereotypes and misconceptions, setting a good example of citizenship, believing that, at least in UWC, we are often the utmost representation of our country and it’s up to us to show our pride and intrinsic love from where we come from.

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