Friday, July 20, 2012

Forced Return Migration

In South America, governments are refining the art of talent geopolitics. The common thread is exporting brains. What comes after studying abroad serves as the crux of the policy debate. Ecuador versus Brazil:

Allan Goodman, president of the New York-based nonprofit Institute of International Education, said that such programs often fall short because neither the government nor the local economy can provide satisfying jobs for the returning scholars.

"This seems to me to be different. There's real integration between education and labor in ways that I don't see in a lot of countries," said Goodman, a former Georgetown University School of Foreign Service dean. "It seems to me they read the playbook for best practices to make this work and they've adopted all of them."

In order to ensure that beneficiaries honor the agreement to return, they or relatives must sign contracts promising to repay if a student doesn't come back, or drops out, and putting up collateral such as a home. When students return home, they will be placed in jobs in universities and state institutions, generally teaching and doing research.

Guarderas, for example, said that after he gets his degree in Madrid, he expects to return to the state-run Army Polytechnic, where he taught before departing in February, and to use his new knowledge to expand the use of alternative energy:

"Apart from whatever I'm assigned, I want to develop ... a private initiative to install photovoltaic cells on private homes, which in the long term will mean allowing people to disconnect from the country's power grid."

Goodman said that the "Science Without Frontiers" program that neighboring Brazil announced last year is "the gold standard" in efforts to reverse brain drain. It is granting 100,000 scholarships for university study abroad, three-quarters of which will be paid by the state, the rest by the private sector.

Yet that program doesn't include job guarantees for beneficiaries. Nor does it specify any commitment to government service upon return.

Brazil's education minister, Aloizio Mercadante, told reporters recently that officials have no problem if some of the beneficiaries stay in the country where they study because that gives the government and scientific institutions contacts in those countries.

Emphasis added. Advantage Brazil. Ecuador is attempting to force return migration in order to ensure a return on the state's investment. Traditional brain drain thinking won't get the country very far. There isn't anything novel in this approach.

Brazil sees a return on the state's investment even if the brains don't come back home. The state is encouraging geographic mobility, much like China has done. Between Ecuador and Brazil, the talent gap will continue to get wider.

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