MET:Brain Drain

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Kevin Tyner 2015

This page originally authored by Jagpal Uppal (2008).
This page has been revised by Shari Virjee(2008) and Jackie Regan(2008). This page has been revised by James McDonald, and John Murray (2009)

Brain Drain/Gain (Kevin Tyner2015)--KevinTyner (talk) 19:34, 7 June 2015 (PDT)

The 'brain drain' is defined by Dictionary.comas, "The loss of skilled intellectual and technical labor through the movement of such labor to more favorable geographic, economic, or professional environments." Skilled labour can be defined as specialized professionals and academics, such as doctors, engineers, lecturers, researchers, even senior managers and students. The term originated in the 1950's and was first used to describe a primarily one way movement of highly skilled Canadians to the United States. In 1965 immigration legislation in the U.S. halted this movement, however, in that same year Canada introduced a policy of tax rebates to skilled immigrants, which had the effect of reversing the previous flow and bringing a large number of skilled American workers to Canada. This situation lasted until 1972. In the 1990's a free trade agreement with the U.S. relaxed the immigration policies and this, combined with a robust U.S. economy, once again created a flow of skilled Canadian workers to the U.S. The Brain Drain creates a void in the home country as there are fewer people to deliver public services and articulate calls for greater democracy and development (Beine, 2003). While the brain drain does hurt developing countries in the beginning, in the long run, the return of expatriates in a variety of forms can provide benefits for the developing country.

Why is the brain drain happening?

The desire for a better quality of life for oneself and one's family is the prime motivation for leaving and pursuing a career abroad. As universities and companies are competing in a global marketplace, intellectual capital is high in demand and these individuals can be seen as “free agents” going to the highest bidders. Even within western and developed countries, skilled migration is on the rise. Canada, Australia, and Japan are also losing skilled workers to the United States (DeVortez, 1999). The United States offers greater career opportunities and a lower tax rate for trained professionals. While Canada, Australia, Japan and the European Union are key destinations that attract skilled workers, the number one destination/attraction for skilled workers is the United States. Since the 1990s, it is estimated that nearly 900,000 skilled professionals, mainly in ICT and from India, China, and the Russian Federation have migrated to the United States. (Smith, 2007). As these professionals migrate, the developing countries lose out on their skilled workers and Digital Divide is perpetuated.

In addition to economic reasons, political and social factors can also influence the movement of skilled workers. Lack of political and social stability will cause skilled workers to migrate abroad. For example, in Africa it is estimated that since 1990, about 20,000 skilled workers leave annually. Furthermore, during the 1990’s conflicts in Eastern and Southern Europe resulted in the migration of up to 70% of their skilled professionals from countries such as Albania, Serbia, Bosnia and Herzegovina (Smith, 2007).

Rural Brain Drain

Brain drain has long been a source of contention in rural Canada. A consistent migration of young adults particularly those with secondary education continues to bleed Canadian small towns of their best and brightest as high school students leave to pursue secondary education and never return. Upon completing their education many choose not to return to their original communities, instead choosing to stay in the cities for work or personal reasons. (Statistics Canada, 2002)This has lead to an alarming decrease in the total educated population in rural towns at a time when the overall population of university grads nationwide has been on the increase. (Artz,2003) December Constant immigration of the educated creates stagnation as no new ideas flow into the community. The long-term effect has left many rural communities starved for qualified professionals, such as teachers and doctors. The rural doctor shortage in British Columbia, for example, has reached critical proportions. Even when professionals do move to small towns, they tend to be outsiders looking to gain experience and then leave, thereby adding little long-term to the communities. This problem is particularly acute in remote communities, such as First Nations reserves, and non-town based communities.

Impact on Indigenous Peoples

As more skilled workers migrate to North America, what will be the impact of this migration and globalisation on the Indigenous People?

How can the brain drain be incorporated into Educational Design?

From an educational standpoint the brain drain impacts education in several ways. First off, in the country of emigration (ie. Brain gain) – these new workers and families will be adjusting to a new society, and require classrooms that recognize diversity and uniqueness . It is important that classrooms promote multiculturalism and cultural diversity. An example of a website that helps promote tolerance and acceptance is that of the United Nations Cyber Schoolbus. This website allows students to learn about various cultures and in a variety of different languages. It also prepares students to respect other cultures, and develop a skill set that is required in today’s global marketplace.

The gaining country also increases its intellectual capital and pool of experts. These experts can conduct lectures at universities 'live' in person, and by leveraging communication technologies such as SKYPE or Windows Messenger project their lectures as videoconferences around the world.

From a developing nation’s point of view, how can they benefit from the brain drain as they are losing their brightest intellectual assets?

Francisco Seddoh

Francisco Seddoh, former Director of the Division of Higher Education and Adviser to the Director-General of UNESCO, contends that the concept of the brain drain needs to progress into brain circulation. Brain drain is a term with negative connotations because it is implying that vital human resources are being drained from the countries that need them most. Seddoh describes ‘Brain circulation’, as the circulation of skills and manpower that can be a positive force in accelerating development in both nations. (Smith, 2007). The educational design in these developing nations needs to leverage the expertise and experience of expatriates. Many of these individuals want to become real partners in local and national development of their homelands, yet some due to political instability and human rights abuses don’t want to return to their homeland. Smith describes the possibility of “virtual participation”, and the use of interactive technologies to support knowledge sharing and collaboration on economic, social, and cultural capital. Thus, brain drain can be seen as a positive factor for the home country as its expatriates return in a variety of forms bringing experience, capital, and ideas with them. Examples

What are universities doing in response to brain drain/gain?

Universities are trying new programs to keep or lure back students and lecturers. Smith eludes to existing undergraduate courses that might have a component for short term specialized periods of study abroad. At the same time, exchange programs foster the movement of academic and research staff to return to their home country for a temporary period of time, and either conduct research, a lecture series, or even help in a development project.

In addition to attracting students from developing countries, western universities are also creating economic and educational ties with foriegn universities. For example, as of January 2006, the government of India entered into a collaborative agreement with American universities in an ambitious e-learning venture that will enhance science and engineering education at Indian universities (Ramsey, 2005). These joint ventures are win-win, as the result creates a better technological infrastructure in India, while providing a tech-savvy workforce for American research and development operations in India and around the world. There are many US universities participating in the collaborative projects, some notable names include University of California, Harvard, Princeton, Yale, Purdue, and the University of Michigan, amongst numerous others(Ramsey, 2005).

Stop Motion Video

Robert Remmerswaal's Brain Drain Stop Motion Video


Artz, Georgeanne (2003, December) Rural Brain Drain: is it a reality? Retrieved from Choices: The Magazine of Food, Farm, and Resource Issues. Retrieved January 11, 2009 from

Beine, M., Docquier, F., & Rapoport, H. (2003). Brain Drain and LDCs Growth: Winners and Losers. Institute for the Study of Labour, Germany. Retrieved February 28th, 2008 from (2007, August 29) Inuit leaders identify 'brain drain' in Nunavik. Retrieved January 11, 2009 from


DeVortez, D. (1999) The Brain Drain is Real and it Costs Us. OPTIONS POLITIQUES. Canada. Retrieved February 27th, 2008 from

Ramsey, D., (2005). President of India Launches Historic Indo-U.S. University Network. CA; University of California, San Diago. Retrieved November 22nd, 2007 from

Smith, P. (2007). From Brain Drain to Brain Gain. Education Today. Retrieved February 14th,2008 from

Statistics Canada. (2002). MIGRATION TO AND FROM RURAL AND SMALL TOWN CANADA (Catalogue no. 21-006-XIE). Retrieved January 21, 2009 from