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Universities in developed nations could help offset the 'brain drain' of skilled workers from poorer countries, says a report published on 1 September.

It says universities could transfer resources, technology and knowledge to developing nations through exchanges of staff and students, research collaborations, and 'twinning' with institutions there.

The report, which focuses on Africa, notes that developing countries see some benefits from the brain drain because migrant workers send money home and might also transfer knowledge back to their countries of origin.

But these benefits are dwarfed by the effects of losing so many teachers, scientists, engineers and health workers.

"[The brain drain] marks a potentially serious barrier to economic growth, development and poverty reduction," says the report.

It argues that if skilled labour in general is important, academics specifically are "doubly so", because of the role they play in research and innovation, and teaching and training to build the skills of others.

It adds that although, "numbers of staff working in UK higher education from developing countries are relatively small and insignificant in the context of the UK labour market, the effect of their loss to developing countries might be much more substantial because of the scarcity of skilled labour there".

The report suggests compensating poor countries for the loss of skilled workers. It also suggests developing international recruitment protocols similar to those that the UK National Health Service uses when recruiting healthcare workers from the developing world.

The report, by Alex Nunn of Policy Research Institute at Leeds Metropolitan University, United Kingdom, was commissioned by NATFHE and AUT, two unions representing UK-based lecturers.

The unions will use a conference next year to debate the issues and begin to develop a policy to help developing countries cope better with the brain drain.

Link to full report The Brain Drain - academic and skilled migration to the UK and its impacts on Africa