Educated professionals who migrate in search of greener pastures derive all the benefits that free education entails, only to put to use their expertise for the betterment of a foreign economy.
Over a year after ending a three decade old war one would think that the problem of brain drain will be brought under control, if not completely stopped. But a study conducted by the Centre for Social Policy Analysis and Research finds that 50 percent of the Sri Lankan youth prefers to seek foreign employment. Now that Sri Lanka has managed to put the war behind it, brain drain may be the only thing that stands between its development.
Brain drain is a huge loss to a developing country’s economy. Academics and educated professionals are essential for a country’s development because they are required to head various institutions. Theoretically they should be in the forefront of devising economic restructuring.
Senior Professor of Sociology, University of Colombo, S.T. Hettige sees brain drain as owing to economic as well as attitudinal issues. He observes that lack of industrial diversification as a major reason for brain drain.
He suggested that it should be diversified to provide job opportunities for highly qualified individuals such as managers, IT experts and technicians. Lack of such job opportunities results in educated youth migrating to industrialized countries.
Worse yet we are now losing these people to Asian countries such as Malaysia, Singapore and India.
The problem is not just that Sri Lanka lack these facilities but that industrialized countries welcome competent professionals. It is an attitudinal issue because most would prefer to migrate to industrialized countries. With their facilities and high salaries it is a bargain hard to pass. “US literally mops up people from all over the world into their cadre of scientific professionals,” said Prof. Hettige.
Brain drain is a vicious cycle. As the few people who are competent enough to train the young generation migrate more and more of Sri Lankan youth go abroad in search of better guidance.
Nanotechnology Director, Professor in Geology and Physics, Lock Haven University, Pennsylvania, Prof. Anura Goonewardene migrated to the US, in 1998, for unpreventable personal reasons, said that most graduates leave the country in search of jobs. He pointed out that Sri Lanka has a limited number of jobs in the field of science and technology to offer.
This is a major reason for brain drain. Moreover only a limited number of students are accommodated into the science field at university level.
However Prof. Goonewardene also observes that some percentage of qualified professionals is now flowing back into the country at the end of a three decade old war. He admitted that such highly qualified individuals may feel a sense of isolation upon return as no opportunities may exist for them to put their expertise to use.
He emphasized the importance of developing Sri Lanka’s resource base to counter this situation. “The universities as well as the commercial sector has to share the existing limited resource base. Consequently opportunities for research on university level is much less than in developed countries,” said Prof. Goonewardene. According to consultant Engineer and Economist Sam Samarasinghe only 0.31 percent of the GDP is allocated for science and technology, way below recommended.
He explained that he sees no flaws in the Sri Lankan education system, that could cause brain drain. ‘Education’ should make use of available resources.
The US has ample resources, consequently can afford the flexibility it offers.
“The US education system allows students to specialize much earlier. Considering the resources available the education system is not directly responsible for brain drain.”
Brain drain is a huge economic loss to a developing country. “At the current rate of brain drain the future of Sri Lankan economy is bleak,” warned Samarasinghe. The main reason for brain drain, in his opinion, is the lack of proper development plan. The intelligentsia saw no potential for development for themselves in Sri Lanka, so they opted to migrate.
Higher Education Minister S. B. Dissanayake explained that as a result of over a 30-year-old war a majority of Tamils were forced to leave the country. But explained that salary anomalies in the education sector has to do more with brain drain than the war.
Prof. Hettige recommended that the economy be restructured and industry diversified. For example agricultural sector should move on to producing value added goods using agricultural raw material. “We still import diary products. There is a lot of scope for diary products in Sri Lanka.”
He claimed that highly qualified people can not be employed unless industry is diversified. Entrepreneurs who lack the capital and technical know-how should explore the possibilities of joint ventures with foreign companies.”
Minister S. B. Dissanayake said that intellectuals are essential for Sri Lanka at a time when it is attempting to make an economic comeback. And claimed that the government hopes to reverse brain drain by offering them high salaries, special consideration for enrolling their children to school, offering special housing loans and vehicle permits.
“Science and technology should be the mainstay of a developing country,” said Samarasinghe. He recommended that at least 1 percent of GDP should be allocated for the field of science and technology and educated, capable, efficient and dedicated individuals placed in key public sector positions. Prof. Hettige recommended that the development process be guided by qualified individuals.
Minister S. B. Dissanayake also agrees that more investments should be made to promote university level research. He said that the government hopes to resolve salary issues by introducing salary reforms, while also allocating more money for research.
When questioned about the allegation that Sri Lankan education is not job oriented, Prof. Goonawardene said that the job oriented system has its own flaws. “For example in engineering academics plan and design and technicians, with lesser qualifications run the system, but both parties are equally necessary.” He explained that India and China had to face the same problem some 30 years ago. “But this didn’t stop them from producing graduates, because some percentage always returned.”
He reiterated the importance of overcoming the bottleneck of entrance into the field of science in Sri Lankan universities. This could be rectified by allowing more students to follow the science stream at university level. But suggested that science based industry also has to develop in parallel to provide jobs for the graduates. He also suggested that interdisciplinary fields like nanotechnology can be developed as a means of creating more job opportunities.
Produced by Lake House Copyright © 2010 The Associated Newspapers of Ceylon Ltd.