The impact of the loss of talented academics from sub-Saharan Africa to the developed world was the theme of a recent major NATFHE-AUT conference that attracted extensive interest.
THE INTERNATIONAL migration of academic is widely accepted as beneficial to university and educational life.
But many African lecturers' unions say the loss of academics from developing countries can seriously deplete their higher education systems. NATFHE and AUT welcome the international flow of academics - but say developing countries must be better compensated for their loss and that the benefits of international academics migration should be better shared.
This was a central theme of the conference on 'Brain drain in a globalised world' that took place in NATFHE's London conference centre on 23 March. The event attracted strong interest from many African academics based in the UK, as well as a host of NGOs (non-governmental organisations) such as development charities and aid agencies. It was a news highlight on the BBC World Service on the day.
The conference looked at the findings of a joint NATFHE-AUT project on the subject, and explored ideas for policy and mitigating actions that could be taken up by trade unions, NGOs, universities and government.
'The event marked a clear recognition that the brain drain is an issue for trade unions to address because of its impact on Africa,' says NATFHE national official Paul Bennett. 'The UK hosts many of the most talented academics from around the world, including some from poor countries in Africa.'
'They are entitled to come, are very welcome and our universities benefit hugely from them - but this is an unequal relationship which can sometimes damage the countries from which they come.'
'We need to see the benefits of lecturers moving between countries as much more of a two-way exchange,' says Brian Everett, assistant general secretary of AUT.' We need to see investment in their universities, cooperation in developing their higher education capacity and other tangible long-term benefits.'
The conference marked the culmination of a join union project that began at a conference of Education International (EI) in Brazil. NATFHE encouraged AUT to submit a resolution on the issue, and the two unions later got funding from the TUC to carry out a project investigating the issue, and possible action.
Chris Gwatidzo of Midland State University, Zimbabwe - one of the conference speakers �C was involved in the project from early on. 'He was a quality contact,' says Paul. 'He has taken up the issues with a perspective on southern Africa.'
The issue is controversial and has many complexities. One of the findings from the project, for instance, was that academic migration within regions can have as great an impact as the movement from south to north.
The project has come out with a range of possible areas of work, says Paul. These include twinning of institutions and departments in African and UK universities, and UK university partnerships with African universities for capacity building. One outcome has been that individual institutions and staff in Zimbabwe are starting to talk to each other about brain drain and networking: 'That might lead to a national organisation,' he says.
The UK project also links in with parallel work that EI is doing in the francophone countries.
One very positive development from the conference was that the union members who attended who were from Africa got together to produce a statement as a 'diaspora' of African academics.
'The conference ended on a very high note - it's a good basis for progress,' says Paul. The join union project has now drawn to an end. 'I hope that UCU will pick up some of the ideas, such as partnership work. We're also going into UCU with a high profile and good reputation in EI.'