Loza found that the desire of researchers to leave the region is shared by other well-educated professionals, such as doctors. A study of the migration patterns of psychiatrists, for instance, has found that 58 percent of psychiatrists who are trained in Egypt will leave, mainly heading to the United States and the United Kingdom.
“It’s the best and brightest who leave first,” says Loza. “If we could invest, then they’d stay.”
Motivations Vary by Country
The desire to emigrate varies by country. “You’ll find different percentages of people wanting to move in different countries, the region isn’t homogeneous,” says Loza.
Says Nechad: “In the Gulf it’s because of the lack of democracy. Researchers need academic freedom. When they don’t have it, they look to leave these countries to go somewhere like Germany or England.”
The Al-Fanar Media survey found that researchers in Gulf countries are the least likely in the region to want to leave, but a clear majority are still eager to emigrate. In Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, 81 percent of the survey participants said they did want to leave, compared to the regional average of 91 percent.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, 95 percent of researchers in the conflict-ridden countries of Yemen, Syria and Libya want to leave, the region’s highest rate.
In North Africa, researchers who want to emigrate are more likely to be motivated by better salaries than are researchers in the Gulf countries, says Nechad.
Al-Fanar Media’s survey data backs him up; 62 percent of researchers in the Gulf said they wanted to move abroad to benefit from more academic freedom and just 26 percent said they were motivated by higher salaries. For researchers in Algeria, Libya, Morocco, Tunisia and Egypt, those figures change to 43 percent for academic freedom and 49 percent for improved salaries.
Some Arab institutions have tried to reverse brain drain through active recruitment programs and efforts at retaining and rewarding current research employees. (See a related article, “Brain Drain Can Be Reversed, One Lebanese Physician Says.”)
Other researchers are calling for governments to put money into research and researchers. Nechad says Morocco should increase researchers’ salaries and offer more career opportunities. “Most researchers would stay in Morocco, it’s a very beautiful country,” he says. “People don’t want to leave by default, they’re forced to look for other opportunities.”