Brain Gain and the potential shifts in Higher Education

The 2013 World Economic Outlook report table by the IMF indicates that economic growth in the West will significantly lag behind most of the emerging economies and low-income countries. The effects of this trend would without doubt affect the higher education sector. The sector is already witnessing significant changes because of the shift in the migration patterns of international students in conjunction with the rise in popularity of distance learning and online programs. This calls for further investigations to understand the changing landscape in higher education.

A quick search on “Brain drain” results in numerous articles. Brain drain refers to the increase in the number of highly trained, foreign-born professionals entering a country to live and work where perceived greater opportunities are available. However, the reverse situation is now evident. Large numbers of Western educated migrants are moving back to their countries of origin. Emerging economies not only are faring better than most of the developed world in the current recession, they also continue to grow, drawing back their expatriates and, in some cases, even luring new high-skilled citizens of the US and Europe[1]. Emerging economies are poised to take advantage of globally mobile and highly-skilled professionals. A recent study[2] reveals that directors with foreign experience experienced increased overseas sales that could be attributed to adoption of corporate governance and internationalization.

Brazil, South America’s largest economy, has seen high inflows of diaspora and immigrants. However employers cite a shortage of quality candidates, who lack the necessary experience and technical skills, and the education system lies at the heart of the issue[3]. China has adopted a strategy to strengthen the nation by investing in its human capital. In addition, foreign-educated Chinese scholars are being encouraged to return home to assist with the establishment of world-class institutions. This presents an avenue for industry and higher education to converge in the transformation of the current outdated education systems. Foreign educated managers could stimulate higher demand for quality post-secondary education and potentially raise the standards of the labour force by engaging with higher education institutions to develop programs that meet industry needs.

India and China are already benefiting from an increased number of technology start-up as a result of this change in migration patterns. Traditional destinations for skilled-immigrants are experiencing the reverse effects. Fewer international students are staying abroad post-graduation while some emerging economies are encouraging students to stay at home. Technological advancements have also contributed to the rising popularity of online courses. A new Kauffman Foundation study has found that the number of high-tech, immigrant-founded start-ups in the United States has stagnated and are on the verge of decline[4]. These start-ups are a critical source of revenue for the U.S. economy. “Immigrant founders of engineering and technology companies have employed roughly 560,000 workers and generated an estimated $63 billion dollars in sales from 2006 to 2012” reveals the Kauffman report[5].

The effects of reversed immigration are still in their early days but the potential effects on higher education, internationalization and economies require closer attention.  Most importantly, how will universities in traditional student markets adapt to the changing global environment?  Foreign scholars are projected to immigrate to their countries of origin as emerging economies increase their investment in higher education.  What effect would this have on research and development? It is still a long way off before major changes would be felt in higher education, nonetheless the education sector will inevitably have to adapt to the effects of globalization.

[1] Reverse brain drain: Economic shifts lure migrants home , Christian Science Monitor,

[2] Giannetti, M, G Liao, and X Yu (2012), “The Brain Gain of Corporate Boards: A Natural Experiment from China”, CEPR Discussion Paper 9190.

[3] Brazil’s Brain Gain Not Enough, Emerging Market Musings,

[4] Immigrant Entrepreneurship Has Stalled for the First Time in Decades, Kauffman Foundation,

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