Bringing science and development together through news and analysis

Millions of graduates quit Sub-Saharan Africa

Copyright: Flickr/GCIS

Speed read

  • Near doubling over decade in number of graduates who left for work

  • Thirteen per cent of all degree holders emigrated over a decade

  • Percentage of graduates who stay rising faster than that of those who leave

Shares
The number of highly educated people leaving Sub-Saharan Africa to work abroad nearly doubled in a decade, a study reveals.

The research, commissioned by the OECD (Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development), found that about a million Sub-Saharan Africans with a degree migrated to another, usually better off, country outside the region in 2010/11. This is a 92 per cent rise from 2000/01, bearing in mind that migration trends over the past four years are not included in this data.

“A scientist in a lab without tools and equipment, might want to migrate, not just because of their salary, but because conditions do not enable him to do the research he might want to do.”

Theodora Xenogiani, OECD


In total, 13 per cent of all degree holders from Sub-Saharan Africa emigrated over this period, the highest proportion of any region around the world, the report says.

Theodora Xenogiani, an OECD researcher and an author of the report, says a major cause of this migration is highly educated people being unable to use their skills. “If you have, for example, a scientist in a lab without tools and equipment, they might want to migrate, not just because of their salary, but because conditions do not enable him to do the research he might want to do,” she says.

But the report stresses that this is not a simple case of ‘brain drain’ — the phenomenon whereby a country loses its best thinkers — as many highly educated migrants maintain ties with their home country.

Xenogiani says migrant scientists tend to collaborate with people from their country of origin, especially if they too are working abroad.

Doing the research, she found countries have started to think differently about brain drain. “In the past, countries thought losing highly skilled workforce was a drama, but now it is not considered as such any more,” Xenogiani says.

“They realise they do not have to bring back people permanently. There may be other ways to have links with them, which will have positive impact on countries of origin.”

But the situation in some countries is critical. In Zimbabwe, 44 per cent of people with a degree emigrated between 2000 and 2011. For Mauritius, the figure over this period is 43 per cent and for Sierra Leone 33 per cent, according to the report.
Peggy Oti-Boateng, a senior programme specialist for science and technology for Africa at UNESCO (the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization), says brain drain damages Sub-Saharan African universities and other professional sectors before collaboration happens. “Initially, it drains Africa of its highly qualified human capital,” she says.

The OECD report, published on 3 November, sounds a note of optimism, saying that the percentage of people with degrees in Sub-Saharan Africa is rising faster than the percentage of those who go to work abroad. Still, it found that 32 per cent of Sub-Saharan Africans, with or without degrees, would like to leave given the chance.

For Oti-Boateng, the answer lies in greater government efforts to entice their best educated citizens to stay. “African governments should create the enabling environment through robust policies and incentives for professionalism,” she says.

References

Connecting with emigrants: a global profile of diasporas 2015 (OECD, 3 November 2015)
Republish
We encourage you to republish this article online and in print, it’s free under our creative commons attribution license, but please follow some simple guidelines:
  1. You have to credit our authors.
  2. You have to credit SciDev.Net — where possible include our logo with a link back to the original article.
  3. You can simply run the first few lines of the article and then add: “Read the full article on SciDev.Net” containing a link back to the original article.
  4. If you want to also take images published in this story you will need to confirm with the original source if you're licensed to use them.
  5. The easiest way to get the article on your site is to embed the code below.
For more information view our media page and republishing guidelines.