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Int Migr. 1986 Mar;24(1):179-89.

Return of talent programs: rationale and evaluation criteria for programs to ameliorate a 'brain drain'.



The term, brain drain, describes the loss of skilled professionals and the nonreturn of students from advanced study abroad. It is now used almost exclusively in reference to mobility from less developed countries to more developed countries. Controversy centers on whether needed skills are being drawn off unfairly at subsidized rates from developing to developed countries or whether excess capability is being utilized in developed countries rather than underemployed or wasted at home. Some causes of high level personnel migration include: 1) wage differentials between sending and receiving countries; 2) absence of opportunities for career development or mobility for reasons other than merit or accomplishment; 3) lack of high quality facilities, equipment, time, and other costly supports in developing countries; 4) employer's lack of knowledge of employee work and the resulting wages; and 5) political disagreement or persecution. Prospects for closing wage gaps and upgrading working conditions on a large scale in developing countries are dim. Growth of the labor force coupled with national needs that are not congruent with professions requiring costly facilities, supplies, and equipment make this a slim possibility. Increasing career mobility possibilities seems to be a more promising route to reducing brain drain. One form of preventive measure is offering study abroad which requires service at the end of the study period; a variation is to guarantee employment for university graduates or for certain sectors, such as scientists. Restructuring decisions on hiring and promotion would have a positive effect, as would developing a better evaluation of expected productivity by type of training. Successful return of talent programs will be relatively modest in terms of the number of people returning and should be thought of as a part of human capital investment. Programs that are concerned with filling positions rather than with luring talent home are more likely to be efficient. The employing agency should be involved and should have some flexibility in negotiation with employment candidates to curb the unnecessary use of resources. In summary, return of talent programs should be used as a tool for development that reduces the incentives for nonreturn from training of for emigration by experienced professionals, not as a brain drain cure.

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