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Reverse brain drain: Lessons for Nigeria from Taiwan

Nigeria is not the only country that has had to struggle with losing its best brains to more developed countries, Taiwan’s strategy holds some lessons on how Nigeria can reverse its brain drain syndrome.

The most qualified personnel are exiting Nigeria in search of better opportunities and conditions, especially healthcare professionals.

While Nigerian healthcare professionals are excelling overseas, their absence is detrimental to the country.

According to the Nigerian Medical Association (NMA), about 2,000 medical workers leave the country annually to developed countries with the majority leaving as a result of low wages and difficult working and living conditions.

The NMA also reported in 2020 that out of 75,000 doctors officially registered in Nigeria, over 33,000 had left the country leaving just above 50 percent of that number to man the health institutions in the country.

According to the US government census data, the Nigerian diaspora is overall the best-educated and its members are more than twice as likely to have secured an advanced degree. Nigerians are also more likely than the general American population to work in professional or managerial occupations.

Read Also: Saudi Arabia headhunts Nigerian doctors in brain drain deja vu

Taiwan’s brain drain

Taiwan, just like Nigeria once experienced a classic case of brain drain in the latter half of the 20th Century. All efforts by the government to reverse the mass exodus proved abortive as over 100,000 Taiwanese left the country to study abroad.

The country faced the peak of the brain drain syndrome in 1979 when only 8 percent of the Taiwanese college graduates who studied abroad returned home after completing their studies.

The syndrome led to a great deal of political apprehension in Taiwan with too many companies chasing too few skilled individuals. Therefore, the government began to implement strategies to reverse the brain drain.

With the policies, over 50,000 Taiwanese returned from abroad between 1985 and 1990 with high levels of education and business experience. The expertise they brought fuelled a boom in the domestic high-tech sector.

What Nigeria can learn

According to a study by Harvard Business Review, aided by a growing economy, Taiwan forged business-friendly policies that encouraged entrepreneurs to stay and immigrants to return. Through research, the government of Taiwan observed that most of its top talents were found in Silicon Valley and other hotbeds of technological innovation in the United States, so it founded the Hinschu Science-based Industrial Park in 1980.

The park successfully attracted both high-tech companies and returning migrants. Companies in the park employed 102,000 people and generated $28 billion in sales in 2000. Industries were upgraded and the economy further boomed.

The government also promoted tax reductions to industries such as the IT industry. Consequently, the opportunities for highly skilled emigrants expanded tremendously and many foreign-trained scientists and engineers flew back to their motherland.

Another strategy the government used to reverse brain drain was to network with those in the diaspora to offer them attractive incentives. The government established the National Youth Council, which tracks emigrants in a database where Taiwan-based jobs are advertised and incentive packages are offered. The incentives include monetary grants, discounted airfares, subsidised housing in government-owned properties, and subsided education for those coming with their children.

The government also invested in education, the exact kind the economy needed to boost its growth. Unlike many developing countries, the Taiwanese government did not help subsidise advanced education only to lose the gains to developed countries when graduates leave for jobs abroad. Instead, the government invested strongly in Universal Basic Education and vocational programmes that were lacking in the domestic labour market. Through this programme, citizens were able to secure jobs as they had the skills to fill the gaps in the labour market.

Nigeria can draw a cue from Taiwan by creating job opportunities with adequate remuneration, providing subsidised training for citizens to improve their employability and also improving the overall quality of life of its citizens.

The diaspora option?

The inflow of diaspora remittances is one of the perks of brain drain from which Nigeria benefits. It represents household income from foreign economies arising mainly from the temporary or permanent movement of people to developed economies.

Nigeria’s remittances from abroad stood at $19.7 billion, $21.2 billion and $25.1 billion in 2016, 2017, and 2018, respectively. However, due to the COVID-19 pandemic that squeezed income in 2020, remittances fell 27.7 percent to $17.2 billion from $23.8 billion in 2019.

While Nigeria has benefited from the exodus of some of its citizens, data also show that it poses grave consequences for the economy.

For instance, the densities of doctors, nurses, and midwives are too low to effectively deliver essential health services currently at 1.95 per 1,000.

About 20 percent of the children born in Nigeria do not live till their fifth birthday due to the lack of basic facilities. Nigerians also has one of the lowest life expectancy rates in the world at 54.81 years.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) has recommended one doctor per 600 people in every country, but at one doctor per 5,000 people, Nigeria has one of the lowest doctor-patient ratios in the world. The United Kingdom has a doctor-patient ratio of one per 300 with the ratio set to improve as more doctors flock in from countries like Nigeria.

Nigeria’s low human capital index also shows that the education and health of its citizens are at stake.

Nigeria has one of the lowest Human Capital Index in the world, at (0.36) its ranks 168th out of the 174 countries surveyed, only better than Liberia (0.32), Mali (0.32), South Sudan (0.31), Chad (0.30) and Niger (0.29).

Andrew Nelvin, chief economist at PwC, has suggested that Nigeria needs to export brains and not people.

“We can have educated Nigerians earning foreign exchange for the country without leaving the country, companies like Google and Facebook are setting up more developments in Nigeria because they recognise how talented Nigerians are,” Nevin says.

While Taiwan holds lessons Nigeria can learn from, the current state of insecurity in the country will continue to scare potential investors and also push its citizens out of the country in the search of greener and safer pastures.

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