A Sociological approach to "Brain Drain”

A. Khoshkish
Published in: JOURNAL OF WORLD HISTORY, Vol. 10, 1966

"Everyone has the right to leave a country, including his own, and to return to his country." Article 14 (I) of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

I. Introduction

Center of knowledge have, in all times, been poles of attraction to those who for one reason or another have strived to learn. The pole sometimes consists of the brains of a master. This was particularly so in the past. Today it should be supplemented to a large extent by research and experimentation facilities. So, taken in its basic nature, what we would like to call "intellectual migration" rather than its more common denomination of "brain drain" is a permanent phenomenon in the development of man and his society. It should not be taken as an exclusive symptom of modern world social evolution but a continuing historical process on which many of the assumptions in this paper are based. Aristotle himself was a "brain drain" for Macedonia!

If the definition "intellectual migration" is preferred to "brain drain", it is because the term "drain" reduces the phenomenon to a problem, namely that of the losing country. In fact, while the "brain" under consideration is a "drain" for one society, it is, most of the time, gain for another. The term "intellectual migration" brings the phenomenon to its real dimension seen from the angle of international society.

We should however delimit the significance of "migration" within the subject of our study. Our concern here is not simple migration. Each migrant has an occupation but is not necessarily an intellectual. The metropolis offers more opportunities and has therefore a force of attraction. The movement can be from village to the city or from one country to another. In the context of the latter we wish to consider that fraction of international migration covering the highly qualified persons.

A nurse who does not find an appropriate job in a hospital in her country goes abroad. Without any prejudice to her skillfulness and intellectual capacities, she is not classified as an intellectual in the proper sense of the term. She may migrate despite an existing need for nurses which she does not fill either due to lack of stimulating conditions, or defective organization and absence of proper canalization of offer and demand.

We are interested in our present study in the migration of those elements who, had they stayed or returned home, could have remedied this lack of organization and stimulation. In other words, by intellectuals we mean those who can provide leadership, enterprise and administrational. [1]

For the purposes of the present study the phenomenon is of interest to us only when a highly qualified person belonging to one country remains definitely in another country. We are thus not concerned with foreign students who once their studies and "specialization" finished return home. But at what moment does the training for a specialty terminate? Is a medical doctor working in a hospital or an engineer working in a factory a drain? He would definitely be of more use to his country and anywhere else if he came back not only with theoretical knowledge but with experience. This of course renders difficult the identification of the subject of study. Here again the choice of the term "migration" can help to delimit the subject. This will include in the first instance the "intention" to stay. It can be completed by the social and professional situation of the subject. The intention should of course be taken into consideration after a period of adaptation and real material possibilities to stay. In terms of Lysgaard's V-shape curve [2] the intention can be materialized at the end of the curve and not at its beginning. As we shall see later, real material possibilities of subsistence are in some cases more decisive than academic achievements.

Who are those staying abroad and why do they stay? These two basic questions are inter-related and have to be taken into consideration together. Another division is possible and perhaps more appropriate, namely, to consider the factors proper to the individual's situation and personal motivations, on the one hand, and the influencing political, social and economic conditions in home and host countries on the other hand.

Another distinction to be made is that between migrations of intellectuals between developed countries-mostly from European countries to the United States-and that from developing countries to developed countries-from Asia, Africa, the Middle East and Latin America to Europe and North America. While intellectuals of developed and developing countries migrate under certain common impulses, for those from developing countries some additional causes can be enumerated. Whenever specific conditions exist a separation is made. Otherwise the accent has been put on migration of intellectuals from developing to developed countries. Needless to say, whenever conditions described as belonging to a developing country correspond to the situation in a developed country, they should be understood as equally applying to the developed country.

II. Personal Motivations


It is not only the nuclear scientist or the biochemist that goes to a center offering well-equipped research laboratories. Even the social scientist, the international lawyer and the like migrate to the academic centers where there is stimulation and exchange of ideas; where there is a well-equipped library and where new ideas in the form of publications and articles reach them fresh out of the press. In a way, the type of intellectual who learns for the sake of learning is attracted by the magnetism of a center where, speaking in terms of physics, his brain is constantly penetrated and nourished by the abundance of waves of knowledge received by that center. Back home he will have to make a special effort to remain in contact. The contact will not be total and in most cases fades away due to social and professional involvements.


In the absence of statistical data it is difficult to ascertain whether those who stay abroad belong to a given group or class. One may assume that scholars belong to different groups and classes which, while sharing common factors, may also each have a reason particular to their background. Surely an orthodox Moslem who strictly follows the precepts of his religion will find it more difficult to adapt to Western society than a person who has already embraced Western modernism before coming to the West or belongs to a Christian minority. Members of minority groups persecuted under a given regime have obviously well-founded reasons to remain abroad after their studies.

As for the classes, the scholar from the lower class may choose to stay abroad because of the new stature he has gained in the developed country due to his intellectual ability and which he may not find back home due to lack of appropriate social contacts. The middle class has been comparatively small in developing countries and is growing. Its members may sometimes develop reflexes compared to those of a minority and find aptitudes for assimilation within the larger middle classes in the developed countries. Those from higher classes in developing countries, if they are rich, which is likely to be the case, may choose to stay abroad in order to enjoy the facilities a developed society can offer without the great discrepancy between the rich and the poor, which develops a guilt complex back home.


III. Political and social conditions in the horne and host countries

It is of course difficult to make a clear distinction between social and political factors. They are nearly always inter-related. However, some elements may be identified as belonging more to one category than the other. It is in this spirit that a classification has been attempted. As for social factors practically all of the elements referred to earlier in this paper, such as cultural impacts, professional similarities, intermarriage etc., come under this heading. But so far they were considered in the context of personal motivations. We shall now examine certain situations which are created in the home and host countries by social factors.


IV. Evaluation

Observations recorded thus far do not bear qualitative or quantitative judgements. Each of these observations can serve as a hypothesis and appropriate instruments may be conceived for its measurement. But before doing so one needs to know the qualitative and quantitative dimensions of the phenomenon as a whole, particularly before admitting it as a problem of the developing countries.


From that went above the factors which make an intellectual migrate seem to be complex. Howevcr, their complexity should not magnify the phenomenon beyond its real proportions. The number of intellectuals who finally migrate should be established and compared with the total body of students abroad. It must be admitted that statistical data on the phenomenon of intellectual migration are lacking for many and mainly developing countries and in some sectors difficult to collect.


It seems more valuable, from the social-scientific point of view, and also for the authorities concerned with intellectual migration, to direct future studies on the factors enumerated in this paper which cause this migration.

Inquiries can be initiated in the developing countries, on the basis of questionnaires which the outgoing students would fill in, to learn about their scientific interests, social situation, kinship and ethnic loyalties or cultural alienation. For the sake of example, on the last point the instrument may be elaborated by indirect questions such as the type of food, drink, or entertainment preferred. Whether the intellectual under consideration in a developing country listens to traditional or western music. Whether he prefers to go to the theatre (which in developing countries has kept its traditional content) or cinema? What kind of films he sees, etc. Over the years such questionnaires can be of invaluable interest to the research worker, not only for the study of intellectual migration but also for the study of the development of international exchanges and the evolution of intelligentsia in developing countries.

After sampling on the basis of information collected from migration offices, universities, industries and other appropriate institutions, intellectual migrants in developed countries can be approached and inquiries made about their motives by instruments containing questions on the different aspects of their private, social and professional situations referred to in this paper.

The largest part of the field is practically still untouched. The question of intellectual migration has received attention only in certain countries and for certain sectors, and marginally in the wider context of studies made on international student exchanges. Studies and documents that exist on the subject concern mostly the migration of intellectuals between the developed countries of the West which possess statistical resources and which, among themselves, cover the largest part of this international migration.[10] Another region relatively well covered is Latin America, because nearly all intellectual migration is concentrated in the United States and statistical data are available at the receiving end. In addition to further readings suggested at the end of this paper, reference can be made to a bibliography on international exchanges in Klineberg's artiele mentioned earlier.

V. Conclusions


ADVISORY COUNCIL ON SCIENTIFIC POLICY, The Long-Term Demandfor Scientific Manpower (contains some comments on balance of migration), HMSO, London, 1961

AWASTHI, S. P., "An Experiment in Voluntary Repatriation of High-Level Technical Manpower-The Scientists' Pool," The Economic Weekry, 18 Sept. 1965, Vol. XVII, No. 38, pp. 1447-1452, Bombay.

BERNAL, J. D., "The Brain-Drain" (The Emigration of British Scientists), Labour Monthry, No. 46, London, pages 178-183, April 1964.

BIROU, A., "L'acceleration du progrcs technique et l'inegal developpement des societes," Developpements et civilisations, No. 23, septembre 1965 (sec mainly part II), Paris.

BOGNAR, J., "The Place of Scientific Research in Developing Countries" (deals partly with migration ofintellectuals), World Federation ofScien tific Workers Symposium, Sept. 20-23, 1965, Document 502563/Bognar (mimeographed), Budapest.

BURMA, John Harmon, "Some Cultural Aspects of Immigration: Its Impact, especially in our Arts and Sciences," Law and Contemporary Problems, Vol. 21, No.2, Spring 1956, Durham, N. C.

COMMITTEE ON EDUCATIONAL INTERCHANGE POLICY, The Foreign Student: Exchangee or Immigrant?, New York, 1958.

COMMITTEE ON MANPOWER RESOURCES FOR SCIENCE AND TECHNOLOGY, Review of the Scope and Problems of Scientific and Technological Manpower Policy, HMSO, London, 1965.

COMMITTEE ON RESEARCH ORGANIZATION AND ECONOMICS, Migration of Scientists to and from Sweden (based on 1960 census), 25 pages (mimeographed), Stockholm. CONSOLAZIO, W. V., "Dilemma of Academic Biology in Europe" (Deals partly with migration), Science, Vol. 133, No. 3468, 16June 1961, Washington.

COOMBS, P. H., The Brain Drainfrom Developing Countries, introductory notes to a panel of the Society for International Development Conference (mimeographed), New York, March 17, 1966.

DEDIJER, S., Migration of Scientists, Proceedings of the First National Institute of Health Symposium on International Biomedical Research, Bethesda, Maryland, 1-2 Nov. 1963. -"Why did Daedalus leave?," Science, 30 June 1961, No. 133, pp. 2047-2052.

FREEMAN, C., and YOUNG, A., The Research and Development Effort in Western Europe, North America and the Soviet Union (an experimental international comparison of research expenditures and manpower in 1962), OECD, Paris, 1965, pages 57-59.

GIORDI, L., "Extent, Nature and Causes of the Loss of Scientists and Engineers in Latin America through Migration to more Advanced Countries," Final Report of the Conference on the Application of Science and Technology to the Development of Latin America, Santiago, September 1965, pages 172-188, Unesco, Paris.

HAILSHAM, Lord, Speech on Emigration of Scientists from the United Kingdom, Parliamentary Debates (Hansard), House of Lords, 27 February 1963, Vol. 247, No. 46, London.

HANIOTIS, G. V., "An Exercise in Voluntary Repatriation in Grcece," TIte OECD Observer, August 1964, No. II, pp. 12-15, Paris.

HATCH, Stephen, "The Loss of University Staff''' (dealing partly with migration), Universities Q.uarterry, Vol. '7, NO.4, Sept. 1963, pages 377-381, London.

HENDERSON, Gregory, "Foreign Students: Exchange or Immigration," International Development Review, Dec. 1964, Center for International Studies, Harvard.

HOROWITZ, M., La Migraci6n de profesionales y tecnicos argentinos, Instituto Torcuatto di 'rella, Buenos Aires, 1962.

INSTITUTE OF INTERNATIONAL EDUCATION, Committee on Educational Interchange Policy, Foreign Prqfessors and Research Scholars at U. S. Colleges and Universities, 1963, New York.

IRANIAN STUDENTS ASSOCIATION, University of California, Berkeley, "Iranian Way of Immigration to U.S.A.," "Immigration to U.S.A.," "Metamorphosis in America," Peyk, Dec. 1965, Third Year, NO.3.

JOHNSON, Harry G., "The Economics of the "Brain Drain": the Canadian Case," Minerva, Spring 1965, London.

KAPLAN, N., "The Western European Scientific Establishment in Transition" (Deals partly with migration), The American Behavioral Scientist, Vol. VI, No. 4, December 1962, p. 17, Princeton, N.J.

KIDD C. V., "The Growth ofScience and the Distribution ofScientists among Nations," I'mpact, 1964, Vol. XIV, No. J, Unesco, Paris. "The Brain Drain, Loss of Scientists from Less to More Developed Countries," Council of Europe, AS/Science (16) Inf. I (mimeographed), 13 pages, December 2, 1964, Strasbourg.

MINERVA, "Reports and documents, The Emigration of British Scientists," Minerva, Spring 1963, Vol. I, NO.3, London. MUSGROVE, F., The Migratory Elite (Heineman's Books on Sociology Series), Heineman, London.

NARAGHl, E., Formation et utilisation des cadres scientifiques et techniques dans les pays d'Amerique latine, d'Afrique noire et du Moyen-Orient, plus particulierement consideres en fonction des projets de fonds special (mimeographed), Report presented to the United Nations Special Fund, New York, March 1966.

NATIONAL SCIENCE FOUNDATION, Scientific Manpower from Abroad, United States Scientists and Engineers of Foreign Birth and Training, Publication NSF 62-24 (1962), 28 pages, Washington. -"Scientists and Engineers'Jrom Abroad, Fiscal years 1962 and 1963," Review of Data on Science Resources, July 1965, Vol. I, NO.5, NSF 65-17, 8 pages, Washington.

ORGANIZATION FOR ECONOMIC CO-OPERATION AND DEVELOPMENT, Resources of Scientific and Technical Personnel in the DECD Areas, 1963, Paris. -International Movement of Scientists and Engineers (Outlines for further studies and enquiries-mimeographed), STP (65) I and 10, August 1965, Piris.

OTEIZA, E., "Emigration of Engineers from Argentina: a Case of Latm Amencan "Brain Drain"," International Labour Review, Vol. 92, No. 6, Dec. 1965, ILO, Geneva.

PLATT, J. B., Emigration of Scholars and the Development of Taiwan: ChineseAmerican Cooperation, Paper presented to the Panel on science policy for development at the Sevcnth World Conference of the Society for Intcrnational Development, 12 March 1965, Washington D.C.

PROGRES SCIENTIFIQUE, Le, "L'emigration des scientifiques ct des ingenieurs .vers les Etats-Unis," Le Progres Scielltifique, No. 93, Fevrier 1966, pages 38-53, Paris.

ROYAL SOCIETY, The, Emigration of Scientists from the United Kingdom, February 1963, London.

SHAWCROSS, Lord, "The Brain-Drain in Perspective," Anglo-American Trade News, 1964, 3 :5-6, Address before the American Chamber of Commerce in London, 13 Feb. 1964.

TABOR, David, "Science and Research, Problems of Small States" (dealing partly with migration), Physics Today, August 1963, p. 39, New York.


[1] It is of course difficult to draw a definite border line between simple skill and creative enterprise. An example of a possible distinction is the difference made between the two categories in the recent United States Immigration and Nationality Act: Section 203 (a) (3) covers the Third Preference and reads: "members of the professions or (Persons) who because of their exceptional ability in the sciences or the arts will substantially benefit prospectively the national economy, cultural interests, or welfare of the United States." Section 203 (a) (6) covering the sixth Preference reading: "qualified immigrants who are capable of performing specified skilled or unskilled labor, not of a temporary or seasonal nature, for which a shortage of employable and willing persons exists in the United States." In the present paper we are concerned with those persons covered by the Third Preference and not by the sixth.

[2] LYSGAARD, S.," Adjustment in a Foreign Society: Norwegian Fulbright Grantees visiting the United States," International Social Sciences Bulletin, 1955, 7, pages 45-5 I. According to Lysgaard the foreign student undergoes a process of attraction to the society and culture of the hOSl country at the beginning of his encounter which is positively charged; a second period of depression follows due to a discrepancy in the process of involvement and adjustment; ending up in a positive period of adaptation. The three phases are illustrated by a U-shape curve.

[3] GULLAHORN, J. T., and GULLAHORN, .T. E., "An Extension of the V-Curve Hypothesis," Journal ifSocial Issues, 19, 1963, pages 33-47. The GuJIahorns complete Lysgaard's V-shape curve, to which we referred earlier, by a further V which the scholar experiences after his return home, where he goes through a first period of enthusiasm, followed by disappointment in the face of difficulties, and finally readapts himself. It must be added that many variations can be conceived beyond Lysgaard's and GuJIahorns' curves. See for example E. H. JACOBSON'S "Sejourn Research: a Definition of the Field," in Journal of Social Issues, 19, 1963.

[4] See under footnote I.

[5] For concording opinion and other interesting approaches to this aspect of the subject see O. KLINEBERG'S "Research in the Field of International Exchanges in Education, Science and Culture," in Social Science Information, Vol. IV, 1965, page 109.

[6] The problem of frustration of the foreign educated national receiving a lower treatment, to which we referred earlier, remains. By giving it appropriate solution the government of a deVeloping country can in fact eliminate one of the causes of the drain.

[7] World Survey of Education, IV-Higher Education, UNESCO, Paris, 1966.

[8] Article on "Students Abroad, a Statistical Analysis," in Study Abroad, XVI Edition, UNESCO, Paris, 1966, page 511.

[9] See diagrams 2 and 3 in the article "Students Abroad," op. cit.

[10] This larger number should not however imply that the problem is more acute for the developed countries. The effect of migration of intellectuals should be measured against the importance of its proportion to the number of intellectuals a country can produce. By their definition the developing countries are the smaller producers of highly qualified personnel and therefore the bigger losers.