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Tuesday, 13 February, 2001, 11:10 GMT
Eritrean brain drain row

Asmara needs a well trained workforce
By Alex Last in Asmara

As Eritrea gets back on its feet after two and a half years of debilitating war with Ethiopia, several major development plans which have been on hold have started to be put into action.

How do governments of poor countries make sure the young people they send for training actually return

One of the major programmes focuses on the need to develop a highly trained workforce, especially in government ministries.

Currently, Eritrea's one and only unversity, The Universty of Asmara, is providing one year special courses for some members of the ministries, mostly veterans of the war of independence who did not previously go to university.

However, the University of Asmara does not provide postgraduate courses.

So, for the first time in the country's history, Eritrean graduate students from the University of Asmara are being sent abroad en masse for further education.

Students abroad

The first group of 300 are scheduled to leave for South Africa on Tuesday, followed by 100 in July and a further 300 next year.

Education is a priority for the Eritrean Government
The programme is by special arrangement with South African universities, and is part of a multimillion dollar Eritrean Government drive to have an educated and well trained work force.

Every student on their return has to work in a government ministry for double the duration of their course.

Most of the students will do a two years masters course related to their future placements.

However, the programme has already hit a problem.

No guarantee

Just weeks before the students' departure, the University of Asmara announced that each student would first have to put up a massive $15,000 guaranteeto ensure they return to Eritrea - the equivalent cost of the two year course.

The announcement caused an outcry amongst some students who were packed and ready to leave. The private press also took up the issue.

The university has now backed down, as most of the students simply could not afford to put up the money.

University president Woldeab Yisak acknowledged the problem saying that alternative guarantees could be considered, such as the withholding of academic certificates until the students return.

But the Eritrean problem highlights an issue that faces the developing world.

How do governments of poor countries make sure the young people they send for training actually return to help the nation develop when they will be tempted by better opportunities and more money elsewhere?

Eritreans tend to be more patriotic than most and most students said they would come back,

Until 1998, 85% of those sent abroad returned, most who were sent were being rewarded for long service, usually to the liberation movement and so tended to be older with families in Eritrea.

But, for obvious reasons, the defection rate increased during the recent war with Ethiopia.

Dr Woldeab said that even a 20% rate is too high for a country the size of Eritrea.

Some form of guarantee system is likely to remain for a while, depending on the success of this first programme, and the speed at which post war Eritrea can produce opportunities young people desire.

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See also:

10 Jan 01 | Country profiles
Country profile: Eritrea
14 Nov 00 | Africa
Eritrea goes slowly online
30 Oct 00 | Africa
Eritrea confronts the future
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