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Last Updated: Monday, 19 April 2004, 11:23 GMT 12:23 UK
South Africa's brain drain dilemma
Professor Kader Asmal
South African Minister for Education

Kader Asmal
Kader Asmal - seeking stricter regulation of the migration of professionals
South Africa, like many other developing countries, especially English-speaking nations, faces an enormous drain of human resources, attracted out of the country by favourable exchange rates, and different social environments.

Some of the attractions are more imagined than real, and there are many disappointments for these young graduates.

The demand for South African professionals is a tribute to the quality of education and training provided in South Africa, and many are highly respected practitioners, in various fields, throughout the world.

This has prompted me to call for a stricter regulation of the international movement of professionals.

Fortunately South Africa has the institutional infrastructure to continue to provide a sufficient supply of teachers, nurses, doctors and other professionals to meet the internal demand, but this is done at huge cost.

Huge numbers leaving

Training a doctor costs in excess of R1 million ($152,000), and for the state to get no return on this enormous investment is a real problem.

At any one stage, up to 5,000 South Africans are teaching in London alone
Huge numbers of South African teachers, including many of the best educated and trained, leave the country directly after qualifying, with no immediate returns to the system which produced them.

At any one stage, up to 5,000 South Africans are teaching in London alone.

Fortunately many of these choose to return to South Africa, after a year or two in the UK. Most return as better teachers - more experienced, and usually more appreciative of the quality of our own schools.

At present, where there is no overall shortage of teachers, this is not a problem, but the situation must be closely watched to ensure we are not in a position where our teachers are needed and not available.

Any country should have the right to refuse any organised or systematic international recruitment of its teachers
That is why we are participating in the Commonwealth Working Group on Teacher Recruitment, which is developing a protocol which will govern the way in which teachers are recruited internationally, and utilised.

It deals with the concerns of Commonwealth countries, especially smaller states who are worst affected, and with the individual teachers, some of whom have been subjected to very unpleasant and exploitative practices.

It will ensure that if teachers are recruited, this is done within the labour laws of the "source country". For us, this would be on a non-discriminatory basis, including race and gender, but also outlawing exclusion on the basis of a positive HIV status.

The protocol will also ensure that teachers are provided with full information before taking up a position in a foreign country, and that the source country is informed about the numbers recruited.

Complex movements of teachers

Any country should have the right to refuse any organised or systematic international recruitment of its teachers, by governments or agencies, should the circumstances require it.

These flows of professionals can help to build a greater sense of internationalism
It has become evident in the course of the working group's activities that the flow of teachers is not uniformly from South to North, and in fact constitutes a far more complex movement of teachers around the world, for a variety of reasons.

Significant numbers of teachers migrate form Africa to other developing countries, within Africa and elsewhere.

South Africa is a net importer of academics from the rest of Africa.

These flows of professionals can help to build a greater sense of internationalism, and of global understanding, and must be seen as beneficial as long as they do not debilitate any country.


The following comments reflect the balance of the opinion we received:

The issue of crime is related to unemployment
John, Sydney, Australia
South Africa can do a lot internally to reduce the brain drain. The issue of crime is related to unemployment. Unemployment is related to jobless growth as human capital and entrepreneurs leave the country. Reducing the brain drain will, in the long term reduce economically motivated crime.
John, Sydney, Australia

As a South African citizen I believe that our government is not doing enough to retain our professionals by making conditions conducive for them to remain. If it's not the apartheid remnants that hold onto economic power lining their pockets, it's the emerging black middle class with little experience given priority over more experienced professionals. So what should one do? Move onto places that appreciate what you can offer them.
Vis Govender, Dubai, UAE

Professor Asmal: Fix the problem of the brain drain and they will stay. I know professionals in the US that would come to SA and work for the experience if it were not for the crime and other social ills. The US always welcomes those with experience and a profession to come and work. How can you stop them from wanting a better life for themselves and their families. SA is sounding more and more like the old Soviet Union.
Dave Lundin, Billings, USA

If there was an incentive to stay and live in South Africa, then lots more people would choose to do that. But when you face a reality that the colour of your skin will determine if you will get a job then there is no reason to stay. Create a fair environment for applying for jobs then more people would stay.
Laura, UK

Countries whose citizens abandon it in their hour of need must invite them to leave but never to return
Anver Jeevanjee, UK
The failure of birth rates and educational policies in the West has increased the demand for highly qualified professionals from developing countries. No wonder they can pay higher salaries as it has cost them nothing to train them. Countries whose citizens abandon it in their hour of need must invite them to leave but never to return. They must first pay for the education they have received at the expense of poor nations before they go.
Anver Jeevanjee, UK

Everyone who has been to South Africa knows that race and gender form part of the "qualification" when teachers and other government or public sector personnel are employed in South Africa.
Mats, Örebro, Sweden

I think if people want to leave they should. The minister has no right to force people to stay. Until people can work under good working conditions and not be exploited as I have been personally they should continue to leave. The minister should stop trying to make up excuses that people are leaving because of the exchange rates etc.
Pete, UK

I studied engineering. It was not easy, especially if you have to pay for your own studies. Out in the field I am earning next to nothing. I don't want to leave but I have to to live. Plus affirmative action is killer. 10 years, how much longer do we need to go through this? I love SA, what to do?
Coenraad, Cape Town, South Africa

It is all about the pay
Josse, Jinja, Uganda
The flow of teachers from Africa to other countries will continue because most states in Africa underpay them. For example in my country a teacher of secondary mathematics will see no reason for staying here getting little money and attention after spending a lot at university. If an opportunity comes up for better pay, then they take it up. So it is all about the pay. Actually most of them change their profession after a year or two for that very reason.
Josse, Jinja, Uganda

Unfortunately the statements of Prof Asmal in this report are a diversion from the truth. The reason professionals are leaving SA is simply because the ANC government is forcing them to leave through (1) their severe inability to create jobs for professionals and (2) race-based employment policy.
Don, South Africa

By emigrating from SA the threat of being mugged, attacked, carjacked, shot at and robbed diminishes a thousand-fold
Bazza, Koln, Germany
The minister has said that 'South Africa faces an enormous drain of human resources, attracted out of the country by favourable exchange rates, and different social environments'. I submit that he has erroneously omitted to mention the minor fact that by emigrating the threat of being mugged, attacked, carjacked, shot at and robbed diminishes a thousand-fold. Perhaps if issues such as these were as high a priority in South Africa as, say, enforcing non-smoking areas, more qualified and trained professionals may choose to stay.
Bazza, Koln, Germany

Over the past month my company has been busy with water supply to schools for the 2004 general elections in South Africa. My personal opinion after visiting more than 25 schools in the area is that the statement of the Minister that "at present, where there is no overall shortage of teachers, this is not a problem" is unfortunately not true, especially if you speak to the principals, teachers and pupils at grassroots level. I do however agree with the fact that most teachers return to SA, due to the reason that the lack of discipline and respect in UK and European schools are just too frustrating for teachers who themselves have grown up in a school system where these values were essential. There is however hope and every South African has the responsibility in adhering to the call to build a better future for South Africa.
SLG, Limpopo Province, South Africa

You cannot effectively regulate professional movements. This group of people take rational decisions depending on personal choice and will. They are capable of resisting or tricking any form of restrictions. Let governments negotiate out or plan feasible favourable conditions to ensure limited movements which will not strain the local market. Professionals will always keep on the move, for sure.
Daniel Kagina, Boston, USA

Africa needs all of the professionals and intellectuals that she produces
Eddie Lee, Monrovia, Liberia
Africa needs all of the professionals and intellectuals that she produces. So I'm in favour of creating tough policies and regulations to prevent or at least limit the draining of Africa's brain. Also, I think that Africa should focus more on creating favourable working conditions and rewards so as to discourage African professionals and intellectuals from even considering foreign employment.
Eddie Lee, Monrovia, Liberia

So, instead of fixing the problems that drives people to leave their families and homes to try and start a new life under uncertain conditions, he would rather remove the right of people to choose where to live. Typical. Nothing like blaming others for your own shortcomings.
Andrew, Vancouver, Canada

As a migrant educator from Africa, I understand what Prof Asmal is saying. What worries me is that he would like source countries to be able to control migration - ridiculous. What about the rights of the would-be migrants? Migration occurs because the migrant wants to move. He should look to the conditions in his country to make them attractive to his own people to stay - not by decree. In our area of Australia, most medical practitioners come from third world countries (S Africa, India, Sri Lanka). We are grateful for these people. They have every right to migrate wherever they are wanted. Nevertheless, Australia is morally at fault for not producing enough of its own medical graduates, so that it sucks in migrants from third world countries.
Joe Mandebvu, Australia

I think that worker migration gives nations a reason to improve the working conditions in their countries. I realise that all variables are not within a nation's control, but I don't think that refusing "any organised or systematic international recruitment of its teachers" is the answer.
Parveen, Canada

I think we should encourage teachers to be exposed to other environments, so that they can learn more about the different ways of teaching. Some of the teaching systems used for instance in Africa are not all that good compared to European schools where the students are left a bit more independent to explore and solve problems on their own. I think the exposure to European schools will be positive as long as those teachers go back home as the minister says.
Ali Elmi, Malmö, Sweden






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