Brain drain: a loss of earnings

The brain drain phenomenon is the most significant reflection of the inadequacies of the education systems in the AMCs and their relationship to the labour market. The significant part of the state budget spent on the education system at its different levels cannot be content only to perform the social function of the educational institution. Because in the terms of the issue of the economy and education, the latter affects the economic and social development of a country.

The highly controversial issue of the brain drain aligns with this new order of migrant populations in the AMCs, namely, that labourers and low-skilled people have been joined by candidates holding high qualifications and skills. Doctors, engineers, liberal professionals, researchers and others seek new horizons to bring value to their skills and ambitions (Fargues, 2005, De Haas, 2007). In this regard, the data from the French National Medical Council (CNOM) is highly revealing: it shows that 40% of registered medical staff and born abroad have their origins in the Maghreb (Morocco, Algeria and Tunisia). A little further south than Algeria, in sub-Saharan Africa, the situation is more dramatic still: according to data from the World Health Organization (WHO), in 2006, of the 57 countries citing an alarming deficit of doctors, 36 were from the countries of sub-Saharan Africa, while in the same period (1990–2004), the level of flight of doctors or what is known as the “medical brain drain” grew considerably (Bhargava & Docquier, 2008 cited by Zehnati, 2016).

“The annual emigration of 1,500 engineers abroad costs Morocco around $47 million”

The desire of senior workers, on whom the state have agreed to spend enormous amounts, to go and work abroad is, without doubt, the visible face of an enormous contradiction. A study carried out in Morocco observes that the annual emigration of 1,500 engineers abroad costs Morocco around $47 million. That is the proof, of undeniable importance, that the brain drain phenomenon is not merely the result of economic conditions linked only to jobs. This has led Charef (2009: 40) to underline that both the material and immaterial have a role to play in people's fulfilment. The SAHWA survey brings more clarity in this area. Indeed, when young people are asked about attraction factors in their desire to emigrate, they speak, first of all, of the quality of the way of life (37.4%) of the country in which they want to settle (especially European countries). They also share the hope of living abroad (39.3%) because they feel that in their country there is a notable absence of the adequate framework to satisfy their needs as young people.

It is necessary to investigate the socioeconomic, political and cultural environment as a whole to be able to grasp the underpinnings of young people's attitudes in the AMCs. This methodological position that is adequately expressed in the following words: “Migration may also be understood as a political reaction to the nepotism and clientelism that plague all Arab countries, including education and professional systems. The structural adjustment plans, which were seen as prerequisites for political reform in ossified polities, in fact achieve the opposite” (UNDP, 2016: 156).

In its most immediate consequences, the unemployment of university graduates undoubtedly has a negative impact on young people pursuing university studies. Success in their studies and the corresponding return on them in terms of the acquisition of a social position is shattered by the unemployment of university graduates. As the results of the SAHWA survey (2016) show, a significant proportion of young people at various stages of the training cycle express a desire to go abroad not for a short visit but in the hope of settling there.

Table 1: Young people aged 15–29 wishing to emigrate or re-emigrate by AMC




































Source: SAHWA Youth Survey 2016.

More than one young person in five would opt for migration without their choice being necessarily and directly related to the thorny issue of employment. Several surveys of young people in Arab countries have shown the growing numbers of young people wishing to emigrate (UNDP, 2016: 156). This shows the certain influence of factors related to the expectations and aspirations of young people in what they conceive to be their social position and life in society, which do not correspond to their current life situation. This is the reality for many of the young people in the AMCs: the dysfunction and insufficiency they observe, mixed with the patent dissatisfaction of their needs, creates in them a sentiment that Hammouda (in the case of Algeria) calls a social malaise (2008).


* This is a fragment of the SAHWA paper Policy Report on migrations scenarios in the AMCs published on February 2017.



Bouet, Patrick, Conseil National de l’Ordre des Médecins (2014). Les flux migratoires et trajectories des médecins. Link:


Charef, Mohamed (2007). "Les migrations qualifiantes au Maghreb: entre ‘Fuite de compétence’ ou ‘mobilité de compétence’!" Conférence l’union pout l’étude de la population africaine (UEPA). Cinquième conférence sur la population africaine; Arusha, Tanzania: 10 –14 December 2007.


Fargues, Philippe (2005). Migrations méditerranéennes rapport 2005. Financé par la Commission européenne - Programme MEDA. Projet de coopération sur les questions liées à l’intégration sociale des immigrés, à la migration et à la circulation des personnes. Robert Schuman Center for Advanced Studies.


Hammouda, Nacereddine (2008). Le désir de migration chez les jeunes algériens. CARIM. Notes d’analyse et de synthese 2008/42. Robert Schuman Center for Advanced Studies. European University Institute.


Hein De Haas (2007). North African migration systems: evolution, transformation and development linkages. International migration institute. James Martin 21st n* 21st century school. University of Oxford. Working papers. Paper 6. 2007.


UNDP (2016). Arab human development report 2016. Youth and the prospects for human development in a changing reality. United Nations development program. Reports/AHDR 2016/AHDR Final 2016/AHDR2016En.pdf.


Zehnati, (Ahcene) (2016). “La démographie médicale en Algérie: formation, activité et brain drain", in: Musette, Mohamed Saib (ed): De la mobilité des cerveaux à la mobilité des compétences? une vision du Maghreb. CREAD, BIT.

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