Saturday, May 11, 2013

Mexico's Brain Drain

La Jornada:  Simón Vargas Aguilar*
Translated by Lindsey de Haan

Our country lacks highly qualified professionals with the skills and abilities that enable it to assume an important role in regard to research and development and increased levels of competitiveness globally. According to official figures, there are currently only 12 million people in Mexico with higher education degrees and about 200,000 with a graduate degree. The last INEGI [National Institute of Statistics and Geography] census indicated that only 1.3 percent of the population between the ages of 25 and 29 have graduate level education: 1.2 percent have a master’s degree and 0.1 percent have doctorates.

The creation of the National Council of Science and Technology (CONACYT) in 1971 marked a turning point for the establishment of policies promoting graduate studies. According to Dr. Rosaura Ruiz Gutiérrez, former president of the Mexican Council of Graduate Studies (COMEPO), although between 1970 and 1980 the supply of graduate programs increased, these programs do not comply with the requirements of "quality and relevance" and have caused "heterogeneity, dispersal and diversification" of such studies, because they were created without long-term planning, "in turn they were designed to meet particular demands, external pressures or government initiatives".

Currently, under the National Program for Quality Graduate Programs (CPNP) of CONACYT, there are 1,601 specialty programs, masters and doctoral degrees in the country at the corresponding levels: recently created, under development, established and internationally competitive. However, if we consider only the last two, in terms of their relevance, productivity and collaboration with various sectors of society and institutions, the number shrinks to 532 established programs, of which only 133 are internationally competitive.

With respect to established programs, the Federal District [Mexico City] is located in the first position with 128, followed by Nuevo León with 57, and the State of Mexico with 39. While the supply of internationally competitive programs, Mexico City tops the list with 79 programs, with Baja California offering 10 and Guanajuato 8. It is noteworthy that 13 institutions offer between 1 and 5 programs at these levels. In the states of Campeche, Quintana Roo and Nayarit none are offered.

In this sense, the limited supply of high-level studies is one of the factors influencing the decision of thousands of students to migrate to more developed countries in order to continue their education, and then later they choose to continue to live in these countries because of increased job opportunities, competitive wages and a better quality of life, among other factors. The vast majority do so with a grant; between 1971 and 2005, CONACYT awarded 135,038.

This phenomenon is known as "brain drain", a term coined by the British Royal Society to describe the flow of scientists to the United States and Canada in the fifties. According to the study "Measuring the International Mobility of Skilled Workers from 1990 to 2000", our country was ranked as the country with the sixth largest number of highly skilled migrants, with 901,347. However, a study by the UNAM last year said that Mexico is the fourth highest world exporter of brains, behind the United Kingdom, Philippines and India.

In late 2007, the CONACYT reported that Mexico lost an annual average of 130,000 "brains". ... Meanwhile, in March 2009, then Secretary of Higher Education, Rodolfo Tuirán claimed there are 575,000 Mexicans with undergraduate and graduate studies living abroad, of which 96 percent live in the United States and 4 percent in Europe.

In 1940, Albert Einstein warned that
"only those people and countries will be successful who understand how to generate knowledge and how to protect it, how to find young people who have the ability to do so and make sure they stay in the country." 
Under this scheme, continuing to follow the same path, Mexico will continue wasting human and financial resources to the detriment of our national development.

*Simón Vargas Aguilar is President of Education and Training with Values, Inc. ​​and an analyst regarding issues of security, education and justice. Spanish original