Re-starting the brain drain?

In 1978 I finished my studies in Trinity College Dublin and went off to Cambridge to do a PhD. By the early 1980s I had returned to Ireland and began my academic career as Lecturer in Industrial Relations in TCD. In the mid-1980s, together with a former fellow-student, I briefly contemplated organising a class reunion from our Trinity days; we gave up when we discovered that, of the 45 or so students who had graduated together, only five were definitely still in Ireland. It wasn’t that unusual. That was how it was back then. Of course the excitements of the Celtic Tiger brought a good few of these graduates back home, and young people in the later 1990s and since have stayed in much greater numbers.

Or have they? Today the Irish Independent newspaper has drawn attention to a European survey that shows that the proportion of Irish students doing their studies in another European country is much greater than in almost any other member state of the EU. According to the survey, published by Eurodyce, 13.8 per cent of Irish students were studying abroad in 2006. To put this in perspective, the comparable figure for the United Kingdom was 0.7 per cent, in Germany it was 2.8 per cent and France 2.4 per cent.

What does this tell us? Perhaps not as much as you might think. Over recent years there has been a huge surge in our national push to raise levels of participation in higher education, and not all of the increased demand could have been met within the state. Secondly, there has always been a trend in Ireland for at least some students, particularly at postgraduate level, to study abroad. When you bear in mind further that the overwhelming majority of these students were in the UK, you also see that there was here a continuation of a tradition that had been established for a while. And finally, 2006 (the most recent year included in the survey) was still pre-recession, and it was easier to find both higher education places and subsequent employment outside Ireland.

I would suggest that this survey does not yet show us anything much. The figures for 2009, when eventually they are available, will tell us rather more. But in any case, we should not be afraid of a culture of exchange, of students moving temporarily overseas to broaden their outlook, and in many cases bringing back something valuable. I doubt that we are about to see another brain drain. I hope.

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One Comment on “Re-starting the brain drain?”


  1. […] naar het buitenland trekt. Ook Ferdinand von Prondzynski heeft dit artikel gelezen en wijdde er een post aan op zijn blog. Dit is wat hij erover zegt: “Over recent years there has been a huge surge […]


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