Bahamas Ambassador CA Smith has proposed that industrialized countries like the US, Canada and the UK offer Bahamian college students – and their Caribbean counterparts – concessionary rates, since such industrialized countries also benefit from the injection of intellectual capital that comes from the emigration of highly-skilled Caribbean nationals.
Mr. Smith made the bold proposal during a discussion on “brain drain” at the Second Annual Caribbean Formal Affair hosted by AU’s Caribbean Circle at American University in Washington, DC, on Friday night.
He was one of several Caribbean ambassadors who address a room full of students from American, Howard, Georgetown and George Washington Universities on the cultural, political and economic impact of brain drain on the region.
Mr. Smith noted that in addition to making the college education more affordable, this would actually increase the number of students able to afford college, thereby creating a larger “brain pool” from which both the giving and receiving country can draw.
“We ought to find a way that there’s a sharing of the cost of education,” he said.
The Bahamian ambassador argued that in order to effectively address brain drain, Caribbean governments must recognize “push factors” that drive human capital away, and take steps to mitigate those factors.
“It is up to us to find ways to adapt these strategies, to determine what would be – for us – the right mix of policies and sustained international cooperation, that would allow us to see the “brain drain” be transformed into a brain bank,” Mr. Smith said.
The ambassador from the Dominican Republic, Roberto Saladin, after pointing out that more than 60 percent of the students in universities of his country are women, queried whether the time had come to review the investment in education. In this regard, he raised the question of regional integration.
Mr. Saladin also said the next frontier of growth for the Caribbean is the pool of manpower that lives outside the region, but is being trained and getting rich, and can potentially give back.
This jibed with one of the proposals made by Forbes July, First Secretary in the Guyana Embassy. Mr. July suggested that perhaps rather than seeing the emigration of human capital in terms of “brain drain,” perhaps it might be better seen as “brain circulation.” He pointed out that skills being acquired outside the Caribbean continue to be useful within the region.
Mr. Forbes also cautioned against what he termed “remittance dependency.”
Indeed, many of the diplomats cited World Bank and IMF research which showed that as a measure of Gross National Product – the market value of all goods and services produced in one year by labour and property supplied by the residents of a country – the Caribbean region is the largest recipient of remittances in the world.
Mr. July suggested that an inordinate dependence on remittances could diminish the ingenuity of the remaining population and retard needed reform.
Jamaican Ambassador Anthony Johnson, Ambassador of Trinidad and Tobago Glenda Morean-Phillip and St. Lucia Ambassador Michael Louis were also among those who spoke. Mr. Louis said the discussion itself was a mark that a “sea-change” in attitude had occurred over the course of a generation.
A World Bank study published in 2008 revealed that nearly 75 percent of the Caribbean’s high-skilled citizens emigrate. This means that three out of four skilled Caribbean nationals live outside their country of birth.
In fact, the World Bank studied showed that in many countries, the brain drain is well over 80 percent.
Over 80 percent of people born in Haiti, Jamaica, Grenada, and Guyana who have college degrees live abroad, mostly in the United States. Suriname, St. Kitts and Nevis and Antigua and Barbuda are all suffering more than 70 percent brain drain.
The Bahamas and St Lucia are losing about 40 percent of their high-skilled nationals to the developed world.
Also, University of California-Berkeley Professor Percy C. Hintzen recently submitted a paper to the Caribbean Community (CARICOM), in which he found that the movement of so-called ‘elite migrants’ results in a devastating loss to the home countries of those with the cultural capital needed for development transformation.