There is an obvious paradox that states need the brains of intellectuals, but the intellectuals are more difficult to be kept under control. And the reaction to it can be manifested in various methods of social engineering, one of which can be called a strategy of lumpenisation, writes Valdai Club Programme Director Oleg Barabanov.
One of the major issues in today’s global social dynamics is the brain drain. It existed earlier, but in the era of globalisation and with the creation of a cross-border labour market, it acquired a special dimension. The problem of the brain drain is of great importance for Russia as well. Recently, the results of a study by the Higher School of Economics were presented, which highlighted quite indicative dynamics. According to the results of an analysis conducted by fifteen leading universities in Russia, on average, about half of their students, after completing the undergraduate studies, leave for further studies abroad. Depending on the specialisation of a university, these figures range from 20 to 85 percent. At the same time, according to the authors of the study, the best students leave, including those who already have scientific publications based on the results of their undergraduate studies.
Of course, this factor of students aspiring to obtain a higher education abroad (more often at the master’s and PhD level), is not the cause of the brain drain in itself. On the one hand, the international mobility of higher education is now the most important trend in university policy around the world and especially in Europe, within the Bologna process. The only question is whether the students return to their countries after completing their studies abroad. If they return, then both they and their countries objectively receive additional comparative advantages in the form of expanding professional and social horizons, expanding international contacts, etc.
Another matter is when a student decides not to return. A combination of various factors can play in favour of him or her making this decision not to return. These, of course, include basic economic factors, the comparative level of wages in their own country and abroad, the opportunity to work professionally, but also broader socio-political and socio-psychological aspects of the student’s perception of his or her country in comparison with others. It is the latter that is often a decisive factor when he or she makes the decision not to return, especially in a situation where purely financial indicators here and there are relatively comparable. If the student decides not to return, then studying abroad really becomes the first institutionalised step for the brain drain. This is because it gives such a student the initial comparative advantage of having a foreign university degree, without the need for its recognition and nostrification and the associated bureaucratic problems and constrained opportunities finding a job in the profession faced by specialists who were educated at home and only later made the decision to leave.
Here, in our opinion, there are several possible ways for states to respond to this challenge of non-returning students. One of them seems to be the most obvious, but in practice it is also the most difficult. This is to improve the comparative attractiveness of return — both in economic and socio-psychological terms. Economically, the issue of unemployment among university graduates, the unemployment of the intellectual class, is usually obscured in general analyses of the labour market, since on the scale of the country’s population as a whole it often represents a significantly lower percentage than unemployment as a whole. Therefore, when various government programmes talk about the fight against unemployment, about the creation of new jobs, then, as a rule, the emphasis is made on industrial workers, on agriculture, on small business, but by no means on the intellectuals. As a result, a university graduate is financially in a worse position in the labour market compared to those who have not received a higher education. Especially if the graduate decides to pursue a career in basic science and teaching.
In socio-psychological terms, the situation looks even more complicated. An objective circumstance is that a highly educated person makes more demands on the social and political efficiency and transparency of the country in which he or she lives. His or her high expectations not always and not in all countries correspond to the actual state of affairs.
In this regard, a student who has studied abroad, by definition, has a broader comparative socio-political outlook than if he or she had studied at home. Therefore, he or she has much more reason to be subjectively dissatisfied with the moral and psychological climate that has developed in his or her country. If this student studied at a Western university, most of which are characterised by obvious left-wing progressive traditions and a spirit of civic activism, which has a serious impact on his or her long-term outlook on life, then his or her rejection of realities at home becomes even stronger.
Another way of reacting to non-return of students from abroad is simpler and more cynical. If the elites of a particular state are not going to transform the existing socio-psychological climate, but are interested in preventing the brain drain, then it is in their interests to limit the scale of students leaving abroad. Of course, only several completely totalitarian countries can completely suppress this and tightly close the borders amid the current conditions of globalisation, but the intensity of foreign recruiting of students can be reduced by other mechanisms, such as through the open or tacit reduction of international educational programmes, through the termination of the advertising campaigns of foreign universities through the institutional channels, etc.
The next way, at first glance, is more paradoxical. But the point is, when it comes to a brain drain, it is usually a brain drain of dissatisfied persons. Here, from the point of view of the elites, politically in the mid-term the cons from the departure of professional specialists may well be overlapped by the pros from the departure of dissatisfied potential opposition supporters. The stability of the political regime will only benefit from this.
The general conclusions that can be drawn on how to prevent the brain drain are understandable and somewhat commonplace. On the one hand, this is a question of the attractiveness of the labour market in one’s own country: this is the level of wages, the prospects for career growth, etc. But as practice shows, these are not the only decisive factors. More subtle socio-psychological aspects also play a role and should be paid attention to.