A University of the West Indies (UWI) senior official says it should come as no surprise the continued exodus of many of the region’s “brightest and best” young achievers.
The Most Honourable Professor Eudine Barriteau, the retiring principal and Pro Vice-Chancellor of the Cave Hill Campus of the UWI, said the Caribbean had “always been a very migratory space” where people from different islands moved around in search of a better way of life.
However, she warned that the avenues for average Caribbean residents to migrate to the industrialised nations such as the United States and Britain, to improve their lives, were closing.
Instead, Barriteau observed that some countries were picking off the higher-valued, educated Caribbean nationals, including Barbadians, and this was contributing to the brain drain.
“I think it will increase,” Professor Barriteau told a recent virtual event hosted to celebrate her 30 years of contribution to the UWI. She retires from office next month.
“From the early 20th Century, people were moving up and down on cargo boats and so, there was intra-Caribbean migration. In an island as large as Jamaica, there was migration from the rural areas to urban areas . . . . Migration is not new to the Caribbean.
“And yes, the brain drain will happen; we can’t prevent it and I don’t think we can tie people down,” she responded to a question from the Caribbean-wide audience.
“What is frustrating about it, however, is that at one point, working class persons were allowed to migrate more easily to the metropole, but that has been cut off. And so, they take the crème de la crème – the best and the brightest,” the Cave Hill Campus principal noted.
At the same time, Barriteau, a gender rights advocate admitted: “A lot of our societies cannot absorb them. I do wish that persons migrating as workers that they transition to better conditions of work and are less exploited.
“I see [the brain drain and migration] as something that will happen for more educated and qualified persons.”
Dr Justin Ram, a regional economist and former director of economics at the Caribbean Development Bank (CDB), at a 2018 CARICOM stakeholder consultation lamented the growing problem of the region’s brain drain.
“When we look at the data, many of the countries [in the region] have lost as much as 70 per cent of their labour force with more than 12 years of schooling. “That is to say, 70 per cent of our population that we have schooled to tertiary education has left our shores.”
The economist warned then about the high rates of unemployment in the Caribbean, which precipitated the problem of migration.
“In many of our member countries, it is as high as 25 per cent, and low as 4.3 per cent. I should add that youth unemployment is even higher, and in some of our member countries is as high as 40 per cent.”
Meanwhile, Barriteau told the session one of the positive outcomes from emigration of high-skilled Caribbean people was their representation of the high quality of citizens produced in the region. (IMC1)