Our Readers' Opinions
July 29, 2011
Education, development and brain drain

by Phillip Jackson Fri, Jul 29. 2011

Within the English-speaking Caribbean there currently exist 150 public and private tertiary educational instutions. Together they have an enrolment of approximately 90 000 students with 41,000 of these at the various University of the West Indies (UWI) Campuses.{{more}} The three campuses of UWI have seen undergraduate enrolment climb by 65% in Barbados; 68% in Jamaica and 102% in Trinidad and Tobago (Tewarie, 2009). This is reflective of the policies of these three countries which include free or heavily subsidized access, and of some non-campus countries’ increasingly aggressive tertiary education policies. Growth however in graduate enrolment has been less impressive over the same period, and mainly confined to teaching, as opposed to research programmes. Most of the other CARICOM countries offer full scholarships to their top A-Level performers, and offer bursaries or pay economic cost for other qualified students. Here in SVG there is the highly commendable government-backed student loan programme for economically disadvantaged students as part of the vision of having at least one graduate per household. In addition to the regional institutions, Caribbean students study and train at institutions around the world whether at their own expense or as recipients of numerous bilateral and multi-lateral scholarships extended to individual countries as part of their various diplomatic arrangements.

These opportunities together represent a fairly good basis for building a robust human capital formation architecture within the region that can supply a renewal of knowledge workers within the context of a well defined industrial policy. To further facilitate this supply, governments especially those of non-UWI Campus Member States like ours would need to devise specific programmes that encourage their student to focus their research projects on local developmental priorities. This may prove more challenging at universities whose research agendas may not coincide with the needs of a small island states. However, every effort should be made to bridge the critical knowledge gap that exists between our countries and the more developed ones (I will deal with this issue within a Vincentian context in a later article).

There is now need for an increased emphasis on expanding and deepening our pool of human capital in the scientific and technical areas. This will improve our capacity to supply the critical skills and competencies for scanning and monitoring emerging technological and consumer trends; assess their relevance to the priorities of the country or region; and help to devise strategies for taking advantage of these opportunities. In this regard, capacity building programmes like those carried out through the Caribbean Council for Science and Technology (CCST) in foresighting and innovation mapping must become institutionalized within the region’s tertiary education system. If these approaches at the tertiary level are to become sustainable, we will need a focused complimentary effort at the primary and secondary educational levels to infuse creativity and innovation in a holistic approach to teaching and learning. The Primary school system in particular needs to move away from the entrenched climate of rote learning geared to the common entrance exams towards creating an environment that encourages discovery, creativity and innovation through process learning grounded in an understanding our local physical, intellectual and cultural endowments.

The major threat however to maintaining this indispensable supply of competent knowledge workers and creators is the retention of more of our brightest and best within the region in the face of massive brain drain due in part to push factors like unemployment, underemployment and political victimization on one hand, and the aggressive recruitment strategies employed by developed countries like the US and the UK on the other. The International Monetary Fund (IMF) reveals that a majority of Caribbean countries have lost more than fifty per cent of their people who have been educated beyond secondary school. The emigration trend is also prevalent in the general population, for example, about 27,000 Jamaicans (1% of the population) migrated to the USA, Canada or the UK in 2007 (Ramkisson and Kahwa 2010). This trend is similar in most CARICOM countries except for Barbados. Jackson (2010) explains that this situation is due in part to the fact that the Caribbean economies with their narrow productive sectors (tourism, commodities and other ‘traditional’ industries) provide insufficient employment opportunities and low, stagnant incomes. When this loss of talent is combined with the erosion of preferential market access, declines in official development assistance and growth rates of national economies, it is very likely that poverty, unemployment and economic stagnation will increase.

The flipside of this migration trend is that over the years, significant knowledge, skills and experience have accumulated within our Diaspora communities. There is a need to broaden the conception of the Diaspora beyond just a source of remittances and now think about reverse brain drain or brain circulation. Creating the institutional models for Diaspora engagement should, therefore, form an essential element of our economic, industrial and immigration policies as we attempt to construct a modern, competitive and diversified economy and society. I will address the role of the Diaspora more fully in a subsequent article.

Phillip Jackson may be contacted at: phillip.c.jackson@gmail.com


Jackson, J. (2010). The Role of Caribbean Diasporas in Regional Science, Technology and Innovation. UWI SRC Trade Innovation Policy and Small States Workshop. Cave Hill, Barbados.

Ramkissoon, H and Kahwa, I. A. (2010) The CARICOM countries. In: UNESCO Science Report 2010. UNESCO, Paris (Forthcoming).

Tewarie, B. (2009). Concept Paper for the Development of a CARICOM Strategic Plan for Tertiary Education Services in the CARICOM Single Market and Economy (CSME). Arthur Lok Jack Graduate School of Business, St. Augustine, Trinidad and Tobago.