African scientists slam developed nations over ‘brain drain’

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Universities in Africa have been “hollowed out” by the steady stream of scientists moving to developed countries, according to the Network of African Science Academies (NASAC).

The group has written to the G8+5 group of developed countries and emerging powers to call for greater investment in Africa’s research infrastructure. The G8+5 meet in Italy next month and include heads of government from the G8, plus Brazil, China, India, Mexico and South Africa. 

A third of all African scientists live and work in developed countries, according to NASAC, and this has crippled development efforts in Africa. It noted that just 1.4% of articles published in international peer-reviewed journals come from Africa. 

Developing science and technology infrastructure is critical to sustainable economic progress, according to a statement from the African scientists. 

“This goal can only be met if Africa educates and retains a critical mass of world-class scientists and technologists with the knowledge and expertise to address the continent’s key scientific, technological and economic problems,” NASAC said. 

The group wants developed nations to invest in the rebuilding of African universities, provide funding for scientists to pursue postgraduate and postdoctoral work in Africa, and to support links between Africa’s diaspora and African-based scientists. 

“The solution to the brain drain challenge lies primarily with Africa. But G8+5 countries can help by financing improvements Africa’s infrastructure,” says the statement, which will be presented to world leaders next month. 

A spokesperson for the European Commission told EURACTIV that it believes science holds a key to address the different challenges faced by Africa and that African scientists are key assets of the African continent. 

The European Union and the African Union last year launched a range of “lighthouse” projects to develop cooperation in the fields of science, ICT and space. 

The spokesperson said reinforcing Africa’s scientific landscape will foster attractions of both African and foreign researchers, the spokesperson said, adding that it would encourage “brain circulation” rather than brain drain. 

“The Commission believes in the virtue of mobility of ideas, researchers, and knowledge. In today’s globalised and interconnected world, brain circulation is to be encouraged. And we will help Africa to become an attractive location to pursue research,” the Commission said in a statement. 

The EU is introducing a work permit scheme known as the “blue card” in order to attract high-skilled immigrants in order to fill its looming demographic crisis and related skills shortage. 

The plan has been criticised for its potential to exacerbate brain drain, but the EU has repeatedly said that the blue card will include safeguards to limit its impact on developing countries. 

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