Is teacher migration a ‘brain drain’ or a positive move?

Is teacher migration a ‘brain drain’ or a positive move?

Is teacher migration a ‘brain drain’ or a positive move?

The rise in organised mass recruitment of overseas teachers has put pressure on developing country education sectors. It is argued that developed countries offering much higher salaries benefit from ‘poaching’ teachers who have enjoyed subsidised training in their home countries. What is the impact of teacher migration on a sample of four Commonwealth countries?

Whilethe international migration of teachers has been in operation in the Commonwealthfor many years, organised recruitment of teachers from south to north began inthe late 1990s and peaked in the early 2000s. In the UK, the main recruiting countryin the Commonwealth, organised international recruitmentdeveloped in response to a crisis in teacher recruitment. This move increasedpressure on developing country governments already wrestling with the need toimprove their own education and health services.

Astudy commissioned by the UK Department for International Development analysesthe experiences of four Commonwealth countries – two ‘receiving’ countries, theUnited Kingdom and Botswana, and two ‘sending’ countries,Jamaica and South Africa – in teacher recruitment andretention. It aimed to identify the extent of international migration ofteachers, the ‘push’ and ‘pull’ factors for migration and the consequences fordeveloping countries.

Itfound that teacher recruitment and mobility have had a largely positive effect –despite some negative aspects for sending countries – on poverty andinternational development, mainly due to teachers sending money home andreturning home with savings. The study’s wide range of findings includes thefollowing:

  • In Jamaica, where the state subsidisesteacher training by about two-thirds, the loss of qualified, experiencedteachers was a serious problem. In South Africa, teachers recruited overseas wererated as above average in effectiveness.
  • Professional development and better salaries were the main reasons givenfor the migration of Jamaican and South African teachers. Jamaican teachersearned three times more in England and South African teachersthree to four times more.
  • Expatriate teachers in Botswana have made a majorcontribution to the development of the education system, especially the rapidexpansion of secondary schooling.
  • In the UK, more than half of secondaryschools surveyed had staff shortages. Meanwhile, about 46 percent of UK teachers – 53 percent ofsecondary teachers – were interested in migrating.

International recruitment of teachers does presentchallenges to sending countries. However, it is not the main reason for teachershortages in some developing countries. Primarily, other internal issues needto be addressed. The report makes the following policy recommendations:

  • Governments need to manage teacher shortages. Theycould reconsider teacher salaries, introduce special incentives, and improve manpowerplanning and allow training institutions to expand according to demand.
  • While compensation is not recommended, receivingcountries could provide assistance to sending countries via their aid budget,for instance by funding teacher exchanges. 
  • Sending and receiving countries could develop a formalagreement to manage the process of teacher migration. This could includemigrant teacher induction and further training, or a two-way teacher exchangeprogramme.
  • Sending country governments could allow teachers totake unpaid leave to teach abroad.
  • Governments that subsidise teacher training couldconsider increasing cost sharing or making subsidies conditional on teachersworking in a state school for a set period.