Earlier this week I looked at the data, as much as there is, on graduate unemployment in Ireland, based on figures released for those who graduated in 2008. Also during this week we have been hearing quite a bit about graduate emigration. On Monday the Irish Times reported on a protest outside the Cork constituency office of Minister for Enterprise Trade and Innovation, Batt O’Keeffe TD, organised by the Union of Students in Ireland (USI); and the Irish Independent has been assessing the case of Carol Flannery, an archeology graduate from Mayo who has been unable to find work and who is planning to emigrate to America or Australia.
We need to be careful that we are not building up a sense of crisis regarding emigration based solely on anecdotes. Some graduates will always emigrate, and that is not necessarily a bad thing as we need to ensure that at least some people with world class skills are internationally mobile. Even in good times some will find it hard to get employment at home, and for returning graduates some international experience will be good for them and ultimately for the rest of us. On the other hand, it is obviously important that many or most of those who have been educated in Ireland stay here and help to build up our society and economy.
But where is the correct balance? In the end I suspect that there is no good answer to this, and that in any case this is not a problem which can be remedied in any specific way beyond measures to stimulate economic growth. Although I feel sympathy for those who feel they must leave Ireland to find employment and who would really prefer to stay, I am not sure what the protestors at Batt O’Keeffe’s office actually wanted him to do. And as for Ms Flannery, I have always understood archeology to be a highly international profession in which mobility is the norm; I doubt that current economic conditions would be the major factor in the availability of employment in Ireland for archeologists.
On the other hand of course, we must aim never to return to the situation in the 1970s and 1980s, when often a significant majority of a graduating class could expect to be emigrating. To avoid a return to that, we must do what is necessary to return the economy to health.