Brussels, 02 Jul 2004
Europe needs to promote the scientific and technical diasporas of 'southern brains' to enrich its scientific and technical cooperation policy, states a report conducted at the request of the French Ministry of Foreign Affairs and presented at an international conference on brain drain on 30 June.
One of the keys to achieving the Lisbon goal of making the EU the world's most competitive economy by 2010 is attracting third country researchers to Europe. However, with ten per cent of all African students studying in OECD countries, we are in a situation where effectively intellectuals from the South are participating in the development of the North, states the report, entitled 'scientific diasporas'.
'When one knows that in Africa, the scientific and technical system is in tatters,' said Jean-Baptiste Meyer from the IRD (Institut de recherche pour le development), 'one cannot let this situation continue. It raises too many deontological and ethical issues.'
The key, added Mr Meyer, is to globalise intellectual exchange. Cooperation must become more symmetrical and benefit both the South and the North. 'The State must support the development of intellectual capital in poorer countries,' said Mr Meyer.
The report found that the proportion of expatriate students from southern countries who stay to work in a host country varies form country to country but is always considerable. Around two thirds of skilled expatriates, especially those working in research and development (R&D), arrive in the host country as students.
The report also found that Africa has a much higher proportion of expatriate students than other parts of the world. Indeed, ten per cent of all African students study abroad. France is the leading host country for African students taking 34 per cent, with the US, the UK and Germany hosting 13 per cent each. In France, 75 per cent of students from developing and emerging countries are from Africa, and African students represent 12 per cent of all PhDs awarded in France.
Furthermore, the number of southern scientists and engineers working in R&D in the EU, Japan and the US is estimated to be of the order of 600,000. If one keeps in mind the fact that there are 1.8 million scientific and technical workers in developing countries, this means one-third of the total scientific and technical community of the southern countries is working in the North.
In the specific case of Africa, experts estimate that more than one third of highly skilled human resources are living abroad and it would appear the trend is accelerating.
This tendency worries developing countries, which have long been anxious about the negative impact of the 'brain drain' phenomenon - they must watch the departure of the 'brains' they need to build up national elites and train their managers, human resources and working population. These people leave initially to pursue their education, but many never return. International organisations are also concerned about this movement, as they know that economic, social and cultural development largely depends on the availability of trained human potential.
It is precisely for this reason that the French government requested this report, conducted by a panel of experts from both the North and the South. The panel found that 'expatriates seem to be the actors best placed to identify and promote crucial development issues for their societies in the host countries' agenda. It is important to organise this cooperation, facilitate expatriates' initiatives without substituting for them and ensure that cooperation is not misused for the benefit of a few intermediaries in the diasporas.'
The report notes that, in recent years, expatriate engineers and scientists from southern countries working in the North have been coordinating themselves in order to offer mutual aid and information sharing, but also to help their home countries institutions and scientists. The experts therefore asked themselves whether this brain drain that no preventive policy has been able to halt, could actually be less negative than might initially have been thought. Indeed, it was felt that brain drain is being counterbalanced by this informal but real input from expatriates to their home countries.
Expatriates, through the diasporas, can contribute to their home countries in various ways. By forging links with the private sector in the host country they can be efficient ambassadors, promoting the interests of their home country's national science sector.
By keeping up to date with developments in the home country and its needs, they can send back scientific information, applications for public procurement bids, books and so on. Another way of contributing is as teachers: senior expatriates host younger scientists from their home country in their laboratories abroad or go home and give specialist teaching that is lacking in that country.
The setting up of projects or joint ventures is also another form of useful cooperation. Diaspora members can also become involved in expert committees and peer review processes in national institutions, thus contributing to the future of science in their country.
The report therefore calls for France and other European countries to embrace the diaspora option and develop it in an innovative way. It should be 'based on particularly flexible forms of support combined with regular assessment,' states the expert panel. 'What is needed is a policy to empower actors in host countries and home countries rather than substituting for them.'
The report suggests setting up an 'incubator' for scientific and technical diasporas along the lines of business incubators. It proposes to 'monitor expatriate students and establish a place where southern scientists can find support services for diasporas in the process of developing. With an 'incubator' of this type it would be possible to support knowledge and information bases providing details on competencies available in each country and among expatriates, on possible careers for young people in training, and on ongoing research projects open to actors at home and abroad.'
'There seems to be place for an original, progressive public policy. Diasporas are a promising vector for scientific and technical cooperation; today they are under used and such a policy could remedy that,' concludes the report.
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