Brain drain threatens future of Arab science

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The emigration of scientists, disenchanted by factors ranging from a lack of investment in research to social and political instability in the region, is threatening the future technological and scientific development of the Arab world, according to a new study by Cairo’s Gulf Centre for Strategic Studies.

The study found that the emigration of intellectuals from the Arab world accounts for about one-third of the total ‘brain drain’ from developing countries to the West. Arab countries lose half of their newly-qualified medical doctors, 23 per cent of engineers and 15 per cent of scientists each year, with three quarters of these moving to the United Kingdom, United States and Canada. This is estimated to equate to annual losses to Arab states of more than US$2 billion.

The study also found that 45 per cent of Arab students who study abroad do not go back to their countries after graduating. As a result, it says that Western states are the greatest beneficiaries of 450,000 Arabs with higher scientific qualifications.

The study says that a range of political, economic, social and personal factors are to blame for the brain drain. These include the slow development in Arab countries, a failure to make adequate use of new technologies in the productive sector, low salaries, and the relative lack of opportunities for scientific research.

Broader factors include the political and social instability in many countries in the region. Iraq, for example, is currently suffering a new brain drain as intellectuals flood out of the country to avoid unemployment and assassination attempts (see NW1369ENG Iraqi weapons scientists targeted by killers).

The study recommends an 11-fold increase in spending on scientific research and preparation of a strategy for science development in the Arab world as part of a strategy to counteract the impact of the brain drain.

It points out that at present, only 0.2 per cent of the Arab region’s Gross Domestic Product is spent on scientific research, compared to between two and 3.6 per cent in Denmark, France, Japan, Israel, Switzerland and the United States.

“If the 10,000 Egyptian experts who are working abroad in the medical and biotechnology sector came back, it would be enough to start a new technological revolution in Egypt,” says Venice Kamel Gouda, former Egyptian minister of scientific research.

She urges Arab states to support the Network of Arab Scientists and Technologies Abroad (ASTA) to act as ‘an emigrant think-tank’ that would serve as a bridge with Arab countries through consultancies, sabbaticals and the exchange of information.

“The crisis facing the region is real and very serious…and the road is long,” says Arab League secretary general Amr Moussa. “That’s why Arab nations should double their efforts to further development”.

Link to summary of the GCSS Arab brain drain study (in Arabic)