The migration of tertiary-educated Guyanese

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THE news that 93% of persons migrating from Guyana have a tertiary education cannot be comforting. As Education Minister Dr. Rupert Roopnaraine opined, it is a national tragedy. This matter represents more than a brain drain; it is a serious drain on the very lifeblood of the country.It is instructive that Guyana is followed by Haiti and Trinidad and Tobago in this regard. The problem seems to be both local and regional; it brings into focus some of the very structural problems which Guyana and the rest of our Caribbean family inherited at the time of independence.

Any country that cannot keep its most skilled workers at home would have great difficulty overcoming structural underdevelopment. That country runs the risk of reproducing mediocrity, while its young people would have very few role models to emulate in the professions. Guyana would not be able to adequately compete regionally and globally. Where would our scientists, engineers, economists, geologists, teachers and broadcasters with the requisite skills come from?

It is clear that the Caribbean has invested in education as a means to the desired end of lifting its countries out of ‘plantationhood’; but if the rate of migration of Caribbean graduates is as high as Guyana’s, then it is equally clear that the Caribbean has not created an enabling environment for making maximum use of the products of that education policy.

Our narrow economic base, inability to pay adequate wages and salaries, substandard working conditions and inadequate health care system have all been cited as factors that influence this high migration rate.

Minister Roopnaraine is on target when he suggests that the government needs to do something to arrest this outflow of skills. He calls for improvements not only of financial remuneration, but of what he refers to as “non-financial” incentives for workers. This has to be an urgent undertaking by the government, as the effects of the situation have consequences for multiple areas of national life. When we bemoan standards in the public service, for example, or the very quality of education delivered by our institutions, one can trace the source right back to this problem.

We feel there are, within the control of the government, areas which, if improved, can put a break on this migration of our tertiary-educated citizens. Clearly, the government can do something to improve the wages paid to workers. There has to be a commitment to investing in our people beyond the bare minimum. We are aware that fiscal challenges in countries such as ours mean that we cannot afford extravagant wage bills; but if we were to prioritize and plan strategically, we may be able to do better than we are doing at the moment.

We also have to begin to think of the “non-financial” incentives thrown out by Minister Roopnaraine. How about low-cost housing, or providing free house lots for qualified workers? These would go a long way towards increasing the value of their paychecks.

How about investing in a modern health care system, so that our workers would not be forced to go abroad for care?

If we were to make these changes, not only would our skilled workers not be so pressed to leave, but we would also be able to entice those who have left to return.