Brain drain or scientific diaspora?

December 03, 2003

This release is also available in French.

There is a massive trend of expatriation of scientists from the countries of the South to the industrialized countries. Those countries see the definitive departure, often right from training stage, of the talented people necessary for building up national groups of top-level scientists and to train up the country's leading young professionals. This brain drain is a major preoccupation of the international organizations.

They are well aware how much economic, social and cultural development depends on the available trained human potential. By the same token, the partnership aid organizations are finding that a sizeable proportion of the fruit of the effort of training students is slipping away from the receiving countries.

Over the past few years, some of the expatriate scientists and engineers (from the South to the industrialized countries) have got themselves organized for a wide range of objectives: mutual aid, information exchange or for making various kinds of contribution to institutions in their country of origin. They are in this way working to further their country's science, technology and higher education. This self-organization is termed "scientific and technological diaspora".

What is the size of the diaspora phenomenon? What main forms does it take? How effective is it? Should the figures responsible in the countries of origin and the host countries support this type of informal initiative? If so, by what means?

These questions were the basis of this expert review. The investigation aimed to provide accurate qualitative and quantitative information for diagnosis and to draw up proposals and recommendations that could be taken on board for determining partnership aid policies.

Results and recommendations: The diaspora venture

The assessment of international mobility of skills shows that the expatriates represent about one third of the scientific and technological potential of the countries of the South. Two-thirds of the expatriate students of the South stay in the host country and settle there. Africa has a large proportion of expatriate students at around 10% (a third of whom are in France), noticeably higher than the other regions of the world.

The growing number of highly qualified expatriates, their spontaneous organization and the development of information and communication technologies offer wide scope for building up active scientific and technological diasporas.

The report presents in particular detailed studies of networks. Some of these are supported by authorities of the countries of origin and the host countries, some not. Thus the diaspora coming from South Africa is supported, even directly organized by public authorities.

Conversely the networks originating from Ethiopia are private initiatives. Indian and Chinese expatriates in the United States work actively with Asia by employing the usual tools of scientific policy available in the host country.

A driving factor of scientific and technical development, scientific and technological diasporas facilitate partnerships through which developing countries can benefit from their expatriate capacity. In France, they could benefit from a support policy which would entail the elaboration of a new type of public action and the linking-up of public policies of host countries and countries of origin. France could support the diasporas as an element of its partnership aid policy. This could be done in association with the international organizations and with the active participation of existing international programmes (TOKTEN, MIDA, etc.).

The diaspora venture is devised and developed as an innovative project in the area of public policy. It could for example, take inspiration from business incubators, and start by setting up diaspora incubators in the host countries, devoted to providing flexible and durable assistance for collective initiatives.

The IRD collegial expertise contracts Collegial expertise contracts have the objective of mobilizing researchers to provide, quite rapidly, those involved in development and the decision-makers with a state-of-the-art scientific review of the knowledge of a question which represents a major public policy issue. A multi-disciplinary group of expert researchers conducts an in-depth examination of the scientific literature, draws up a collegial analytical report. It sets out clear conclusions, taking into account the whole set of scientific approaches necessary, for the body that commissions the work, decision-makers or public opinion.

The IRD series " Expertise collégiale " brings together the results of the different collegial expertise operations produced by IRD scientists. Four such reports have been published or are in press.

New publication:
Diasporas scientifiques
R. BARRÉ, V. HERNANDEZ, J.B. MEYER, D. VINCK, 2003, IRD Éditions, Paris, 15 euros.

Institut de recherche pour le développement

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