Monday 9th January, 2006

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T&T’s brain drain needs new plumbing

UWI principal Dr Bhoendradatt Tewarie sounded a sobering note of warning in Friday’s Guardian of a growing migration of our best-educated scholars from these shores.

While economists were measuring capital flight, our university was logging lost training and intellect, and the report doesn’t look good.

Dr Tewarie didn’t provide figures, but in his words, we are losing our best and brightest “in droves.”

Some of this is a natural consequence of economies operating on a global scale with the resources to cherry-pick the best talent, no matter where it might have been born.

But some of it is also a consequence of an inadequate strategy to make the best use of native intellect and talent in building the next generation business opportunities that the highly-specialised business initiatives that our future will demand.

Dr Tewarie cites the United Nations’ Millennium Development Goals, the second of which is “achieve universal primary education” and the emerging reality that developed nations will demand a large, well-educated pool of tertiary-level graduates.

The problem sets in when the gap between a nation that aspires to becoming developed and one that has been for decades is measured.

T&T is still building the business, social and governmental infrastructure and mechanisms to make the best use of that tertiary pool, while long developed nations are desperate for them.

Along with this loss of intellect comes the loss of valuable contributors to the middle-class and our business drivers, the clever and driven people who, in striving to improve their lot, raise the value of everything around them.

To change that loss, the Government will have to become much smarter about the way it plans for T&T’s growth.

If we want to hold on to growing numbers of tertiary-level graduates, trained craftsmen and other workers, the nation will have to provide jobs that deliver not just appropriate income, but also opportunities for individuals to invest themselves in the development of the country’s potential.

The only sustainable way to do that is by encouraging entrepreneurship and business incentives in areas in which growth is needed. Business development in technology and engineering cannot be mandated by policy, but can be actively supported and funded.

The Government must also commit to developing or driving the growth of a modern communications infrastructure that will allow this country to work with the world along datapipes that match those of the nations with which it hopes to compete and collaborate.

But these are not natural postures for a T&T government to adopt. They may seem too forward-looking, too trusting of the business sector, and too fundamentally uncontrollable for politicians used to controlling every element of governance, but they are, unquestionably, inevitable.

What we are seeing in the loss of so many of our most promising people is not just a fear of crime or the lure of well-commercialised nations, but a loss of confidence in the pilots steering our future course.

If we want these valuable passengers, the sales pitch for their future destination is going to have to be spelled out in compelling detail and offer well-defined roles for well-trained nationals to participate in the futuring of our nation.

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