Why Does Brain Drain Occur?

The Loss of the Highly Educated to More Developed Countries

A woman talks on her cell phone as a passenger jet flies over the Jari Mari slum before landing at Mumbai Airport in Mumbai, India. India has historically suffered from significant brain drain but brain gain might be in India's future.
Daniel Berehulak / Staff/ Getty Images News/ Getty Images

Brain drain refers to the emigration (out-migration) of knowledgeable, well-educated, and skilled professionals from their home country to another country. This can take place because of several factors. The most obvious is the availability of better job opportunities in the new country. Other factors that can cause brain drain include: war or conflict, health risks, and political instability.

Brain drain occurs most commonly when individuals leave less developed countries (LDCs) with fewer opportunities for career advancement, research, and academic employment and migrate to more developed countries (MDCs) with more opportunities. However, it also occurs in the movement of individuals from one more developed country to another more developed country.

The Brain Drain Loss

The country that experiences brain drain suffers a loss. In LDCs, this phenomenon is much more common and the loss is much more substantial. LDCs generally do not have the ability to support growing industry and the need for better research facilities, career advancement, and salary increases. There is an economic loss in the possible capital that the professionals may have been able to bring in, a loss in advancement and development when all of the educated individuals use their knowledge to benefit a country other than their own, and a loss of education when educated individuals leave without assisting in the education of the next generation.

There is also a loss that occurs in MDCs, but this loss is less substantial because MDCs generally see an emigration of these educated professionals as well as an immigration of other educated professionals.

Possible Brain Drain Gain

There is an obvious gain for the country experiencing "brain gain" (the influx of skilled workers), but there is also a possible gain for the country that loses the skilled individual. This is only the case if professionals decide to return to their home country after a period of working abroad. When this happens, the country regains the worker as well as gains a new abundance of experience and knowledge received from the time abroad. However, this is very uncommon, particularly for LDCs that would see the most gain with the return of their professionals. This is due to the clear discrepancy in higher job opportunities between LDCs and MDCs. It is generally seen in the movement between MDCs.

There is also a possible gain in the expansion of international networking that can come as a result of brain drain. In this respect, this involves networking between nationals of a country who are abroad with their colleagues who remain in that home country. An example of this is Swiss-List.com, which was established to encourage networking between Swiss scientists abroad and those in Switzerland.

Examples of Brain Drain in Russia

In Russia, brain drain has been an issue since Soviet times. During the Soviet-era and after the collapse of the Soviet Union in the early 1990s, brain drain occurred when top professionals moved to the West or to socialist states to work in economics or science. The Russian government is still working to counter this with the allocation of funds to new programs that encourage the return of scientists that left Russia and encourages future professionals to remain in Russia to work.

Examples of Brain Drain in India

The education system in India is one of the top in the world, boasting very few drop-outs, but historically, once Indians graduate, they tend to leave India to move to countries, such as the United States, with better job opportunities. However, in the last few years, this trend has started to reverse itself. Increasingly, Indians in America feel that they are missing the cultural experiences of India and that there are currently better economic opportunities in India.

Combating Brain Drain

There are many things governments can do to combat brain drain. According to the OECD Observer, "Science and technology policies are key in this regard." The most beneficial tactic would be to increase job advancement opportunities and research opportunities in order to reduce the initial loss of brain drain as well as encourage highly-skilled workers both inside and outside the country to work in that country. The process is difficult and it takes time to establish these sorts of facilities and opportunities, but it is possible, and becoming increasingly necessary.

These tactics, however, do not address the issue of reducing brain drain from countries with issues such as conflict, political instability or health risks, meaning that brain drain is likely to continue as long as these problems exist.

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Karpilo, Jessica. "Why Does Brain Drain Occur?" ThoughtCo, Aug. 27, 2020, thoughtco.com/brain-drain-1435769. Karpilo, Jessica. (2020, August 27). Why Does Brain Drain Occur? Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/brain-drain-1435769 Karpilo, Jessica. "Why Does Brain Drain Occur?" ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/brain-drain-1435769 (accessed March 23, 2023).