Venezuela: science ‘brain drain’ threatens future of research

cientificos by concitec
Future generations of scientists in Venezuela are at risk due to the talent flight and abandonment of higher education. Copyright: Concytec Perú.

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  • Exodus of professionals has hit Venezuelan science hard
  • Engineering, health and education are worst affected
  • Future of sector also threatened by fall in student numbers

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[LIMA] The talent drain in Venezuela is seriously affecting science, technology and research in the country, experts warn, leaving it without a critical mass of researchers and scientists that would be difficult to restore without international cooperation.

Moreover, it stymies future generations of scientists, said specialists who shared figures and testimonies at a series of meetings and academic talks in the Peruvian capital between 25 February and 6 March.

More than three million people have fled Venezuela since 2015, according to the UN Refugee Agency, in an exodus driven by the deterioration of the economy and rising poverty.

According to the Survey on Living Conditions (ENCOVI 2017) – produced by the Andrés Bello Catholic University, the Central University of Venezuela and the Simón Bolívar University of Venezuela – poverty soared from 48.4 per cent in 2014 to 87 per cent in 2017, with 61.2 per cent of homes in extreme poverty.

The exact size of the scientific diaspora is hard to establish but engineering – especially petroleum and hydrocarbons – and careers related to health and education have been hardest hit, evidence presented in Lima suggests. It also showed that Venezuelan migrants have a high level of academic training.

“There is a large volume of graduates in different subjects, as well as people with masters and, to a lesser extent, PhD’s,” concludes the book Venezuelan exodus: between the exile and the emigration, which looks at ten studies carried out in Latin American countries with the greatest share of Venezuelan migrants.

“If there are no students, there is no research or production of knowledge,”

José Koechlin, Antonio Ruíz de Montoya Jesuit University

Chile, Uruguay, Argentina and Spain have the highest percentages of highly qualified Venezuelan migrants, according to the book, edited by the Antonio Ruíz de Montoya Jesuit University (UARM) of Peru, under the auspices of the International Organization for Migration and the Konrad Adenauer Foundation.

The book was a catalyst for the meetings in Lima, which brought together more than 50 academics and researchers.

In Chile, 64 per cent of the 85,461 Venezuelan residents registered up to 2017 had an undergraduate or postgraduate degree, the book states. This contrasts with other migrant groups, where the figure is 32 per cent.

The ENCOVI 2017 survey also points to the failure of the system to capture new talent in Venezuela.

Between 2016 and 2017, the uptake of higher education dropped from 48 to 38 per cent. In this period, 2,546 million young people aged 18 to 24 stopped attending classes and only 426,000 – from a pool of more than 4 million – completed their professional training.

José Koechlin, UARM professor and one of the editors of the book, tells SciDev.Net: “If there are no students, there is no research or production of knowledge. This tells you the seriousness of the talent crisis: it no longer has the conditions to prosper; rather, under current conditions, it is no longer possible to produce knowledge.”

He says a “return policy” will eventually be needed to allow university professors and other professionals who left to be reinserted into the sector.
Meanwhile, the rest of the region faces the task of integrating migrants into the workforce.

“The normalization of the migratory situation forces many professionals to work in other fields, even at a lower level. I know pediatricians who work taking care of children in a house, or engineers working as waiters,” says Stella Spattaro, a former teacher at Venezuela’s Universidad Pedagógica Experimental Libertador who emigrated to Lima.

She says the numbers of undergraduates in her classes in Venezuela dwindled from up to 30 to as few as three or four before she left.

There are countries, such as Argentina, where diplomas and degrees are recognized almost immediately, but in other countries such as Peru migrants face lengthy bureaucratic procedures and sometimes extra training to continue in their field.

“This crisis has shown that integration at a professional educational level does not work; that a professional cannot go to another country to develop with dignity,” says Koechlin.

“There is very fast integration in business terms, with many incentives for monetary capital, but that does not exist with human capital. We require a genuine integration and a South American educational space, as there is in Europe, to create a scientific mass of exchange, of help, of response,” he adds.