With globalisation expanding to all corners of the world there is an ever-increasing interlinking of economies with more trade occurring and a greater exchange of knowledge between nations.
Over the last few years (except the Covid period), an increasing number of students have chosen to enrol in international universities for their tertiary studies.
When we concentrate on education, international migration shows a distinct pattern of movement from the east to the west and typically from non-English speaking countries to English-speaking countries.
Despite charging very high tuition fees, top destinations for international students remain the US, UK and Australia which together welcome a high proportion of all international students annually.
In Europe, there is an uneven distribution of wealth with some nations faring much better economically and socially than their neighbours. For instance, many Eastern European students view Western Europe as their goal, and blame their legacy of communism for creating wealth disparity.
Holding an EU passport and obtaining the grant will pave the way to successful migration to western Europe.
The Erasmus Exchange programme may have been one of the EU’s most successful initiatives to support and strengthen its competitive edge in the global knowledge economy and to encourage cooperation within the EU. This programme was established in 1987 and involved exchange students– part of their degree could be completed at a university in a different EU state.
A popular destination for Eastern European students is Denmark. In 2017, about 35% of all Denmark’s international students were from eastern Europe. This trend can be attributed to Denmark’s student grant system. This grant of €780 is awarded to any students from the EU who work for 10-12 hours per week, in addition to the salaries they earn.
Despite this, around 45% of international students leave Denmark soon after graduating. As education is free in Denmark for all EU citizens, these students who leave actually create a negative financial investment for Denmark.
In countries like the UK, Australia and of course even more in the US, the cost of education is exorbitantly high for foreign students and they have become an essential income source which greatly contributes to the local educational system.
Usually, the European countries only offer free tuition to students from EU and EEA member countries. However, some, like Germany and Norway, offer free tuition to all students regardless of nationality. And even when they charge tuition fees for foreign students, it tends to be much lower than those of colleges and universities in the US or in the UK.
This disparity in educational systems transforms the globalisation of education into big business in some countries but potentially cripples others financially. Some EU countries such as France have very recently decided to charge much higher fees for non EU and EEA students.
In 1965 there were about 250K students studying abroad. Today that number stands at 5.6 million foreign students. This is largely due to increasing labour mobility levels where professionals are willing to move internationally to advance their career goals.
These statistics on international students have attracted widespread criticism. Both analysts and educators from various disciplines have blamed the industrialised West for attracting talent away from low-income countries creating a massive brain drain in those countries.
The term ‘brain drain’ was first used after the world war to describe the movement of British and European scientists and academics to the US. This movement of highly educated people had (and still has) widespread and direct economic implications in those countries they are leaving.
The critics argue that more prosperous nations have an obligation to encourage foreign graduates to return home and help build their home nations.
“By accelerating the brain drain in Africa and Asia we are weakening their institutional capacities. It means that places like hospitals and universities will not be able to deal with these huge challenges like pandemics and climate change and inequality,” observed Adam Habib, a South African who is now director of the School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London, in The Guardian.
However, with increasing globalisation in the 21st century, the previously negative brain drain is now seen as normal even though the negative social and economic effects are still felt very acutely in the countries that experience the loss.
Changes to western government policies, like easy work visa applications and effortless pathways to citizenship, have encouraged international students to stay after graduating providing skilled labour and contributing to the economies of these countries.
For example, almost 70% of Chinese and Indian doctoral graduates in the US choose to remain there after their studies, and Canada’s recent move to extend post-grad work permits to keep up with their economic growth. These graduates stay because they have access to better career opportunities and more to gain financially. Many of these graduates also stay to embark on further study whilst others pursue other overseas job opportunities.
In Russia, a poll at leading universities found that about 50% of their students leave to further their postgraduate studies in other countries.
To address the negative effects of the brain drain, the European Commission introduced a new policy in 2021, called Talent Partnerships which is the legal immigration of skilled labour from certain countries, like Egypt and Morocco. They view this programme as “brain gain” rather than brain drain because it will include development cooperation with those countries.
"We need legal migration: Europe’s working age population is shrinking and many key sectors face skills shortages, like healthcare and agriculture" said the European Commissioner Ylva Johansson.
But critics are quick to point out that this programme is skewed towards those wealthier nations. In a nutshell, they claim the policy is all about “grooming” talent from lower-income countries for employment in high-income countries.
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