Britain's universities are poaching academic talent from developing nations at such an alarming rate that the UK must consider recruitment restrictions and compensation packages to counter the damage caused by the brain drain, a report has recommended.
The study, The Brain Drain - academic and Skilled Migration to the UK and its Impacts on Africa , was commissioned by academic trade unions with funding from the Government's Department for International Development.
The report warns that a large proportion of the 34,000 foreign nationals who make up 23 per cent of UK academics are from Africa and other developing nations. It says that their recruitment in ever-increasing numbers is having a devastating effect on their home nations, which are suffering skill shortages and the failure of their education systems as a result.
"The brain drain, as the flow of skilled professionals out of developing countries has become known, marks a potentially serious barrier to economic growth, development and poverty reduction," says the report by Alex Nunn of Leeds Metropolitan's Policy Research Institute.
Dr Nunn's report, published this week, says that overseas workers are attracted to Britain for various reasons, including relatively high wages and better working conditions, job opportunities and "the freedom from political instability or oppression".
"In the case of academics, these (factors) are augmented by access to research funding and facilities and the potential to collaborate with other researchers," it says.
Africa, it adds, "has witnessed decades of wasted development potential and, in some countries, suffers problems of extreme poverty and lack of both human and institutional capacity".
Even in relatively developed African nations such as Nigeria there is a lack of capacity to meet demand for education. "In 2000, Nigerian universities could accept only 12 per cent of applicants," the report says.
Dr Nunn said that there should be a debate on "compensatory mechanisms" to recompense countries for the loss of skilled labour. While migration taxes are unpopular, "a broader and more sophisticated approach, linked to global efforts at poverty reduction or debt relief, may be viable".
He also called for the promotion of "the development of international protocols on recruitment, similar to those that apply in the National Health Service with regard to recruiting healthcare workers from the developing world".
This, Dr Nunn said, could help prevent disreputable recruitment practices.
Paul Bennett, national official at lecturers' union Natfhe, said new protocols could be feasible. "Britain's universities and society benefit from the skills and knowledge of migrating academics.
"Exporter countries also benefit to some degree - academics from Africa often remit income to families, as well as transferring knowledge to their country of origin.
"But," he added, "it may be an unequal exchange that disproportionately favours Britain. If so, we should explore ways of ensuring a fairer relationship."
Mr Bennett said there was already a Commonwealth teaching recruitment protocol that, while it acknowledged the right of teachers to migrate, also recognised the need to "protect the education system of poor countries losing a scarce and valuable resource".