Exodus of The Young

Home is where the heart is. — Pliny the Elder

There is more and more evidence that a growing number of the educated and talented young of the country are either opting to work abroad after their university studies or venturing abroad in the pursuit of better prospects. The social grapevine is abuzz with a growing number of parents from all walks of life who are adjusting to this grim new reality. A painful reality marked by the separation of parents from their children and grandchildren. However, for parents the well-being, professional satisfaction and successful future of their progeny remains paramount above all other considerations.

The standard advice given to the young generation of students going abroad for studies is to work in placements during the summer vacations and given the opportunities endeavour to work for a certain span of time post graduation in order to acquire the specialised skills and work experience necessary to obtain better jobs and boost one’s professional career. An increasing number of the talented young of the country are thus working abroad in some of the best companies in their field and are therefore acquiring valuable work experience. This is a sensible thing to do when studying abroad and for more than a decade there is a growing trend of this happening on an increasingly larger scale.

Such a trend is also a unique boon for the country as it enables a growing pool of well qualified and talented young Mauritians having acquired work experience and a broad spectrum of pointed skills in diverse fields to offer their services to both the public and the private sectors and help significantly improve and upgrade the country’s technical, innovative and strategic thinking capacities and managerial acumen for the advancement and prosperity of the country and the people. However, too many barriers, interferences and bottlenecks prevent a smooth induction of this necessary fresh air of talent and expertise in the public and private sectors to provide the much needed impetus for the substantive betterment of the country. What are we doing to make this urgently happen for the inclusive good of the country and the people?

Those familiar with the employment scene in the United Kingdom or the United States know that well qualified and talented foreign students graduating from top universities are cherry picked by some of the most prominent companies in these countries when recruitments are opened every year in the summer. In a globalised world, top companies are continually scouting for new talent and sourcing the best ones available globally. The foreign talent pool is therefore highly sought after.

A Financial Times study carried out in 2014 showed that the UK’s decision to end as from April 2011 the work visa scheme which allowed foreign students from outside Europe studying in the United Kingdom to work in the UK after their graduation has impacted adversely on the foreign talent pool in the UK. It revealed that the tighter work visa rules have caused a significant shift in the flow and number of the best foreign students opting to study in the UK from countries outside Europe. These had decreased by more than a third between 2011 and 2013. This had led to the realization in the UK that the rabid and indiscriminate rhetoric against foreigners is tantamount to making Britain close its doors on high skilled foreign talent in great demand in the market place.

Despite the work visa restrictions, the UK continues to tap the pool of the large numbers of talented and well qualified young foreigners graduating from top UK universities through an offer of employment under the Tier 2 (General) visa scheme. With globalization there has been, over more than a decade, a growing trend among multinational companies and firms with a global footprint in the United States, the UK, Luxembourg, Switzerland or Singapore, etc., to recruit more and more from the pool of young foreign talent graduating from the best universities in the world. These foreign recruits go on to have singular professional careers. This is best epitomized by the number of foreign born CEOs now heading some of the most successful and important multinational companies in the world such as Satya Nadella at Microsoft, Indra Nooyi at PepsiCo, Sundar Pitchai at Google or Ajay Banga at MasterCard.

Closing doors

While the world and the top multinational companies are opening up to hire the best talent available globally irrespective of their foreign origin, we seem to be closing doors on our own most qualified and talented young and discouraging them from returning home to contribute substantively to the development and well being of the country. The pervasive perception that the recruitment system in both the public and the private sectors are not rigorously merit based and transparent is shooing off our best talents from putting their intellect, expertise and experience to the service of the country. We seem to be shunning our best home grown talent. In contrast to the enlightened recruitment policies prevalent in the United States and the United Kingdom aimed at harnessing the best brains available globally, we are shooting ourselves in the foot by a general nivellement par le bas. It is all so ‘harakiric’.

The upshot is that in the space of two generations the seminal dream of those who fought for independence and a free country providing equal opportunities for all where their children and grandchildren will have a better and successful future is being thwarted by mediocre policy and political choices. A growing number of the grandchildren of the freedom fighters of the country are therefore opting to work and pursue their professional careers abroad instead of the hassle of battling through a system without transparent and merit based rules, devoid of a level playing field and equal opportunities for all.

The bottom line is that it seems simply daft to spend one of the largest outlays of the annual budget on the Ministry of Education and Human Resources, with a tag of Rs 16.1 billion in the current budget and then not reap the benefits of the investment in free education by harnessing the best talents and professionals generated by the system to help substantially boost growth and standards of living in the country. Such questionable policies are seriously impairing the prospects of the country. This costly annually hiked investment in the Education sector is therefore indirectly benefiting the countries where some of our best young talents have opted to pursue their professional careers.

Bring our talented young back

It must be remembered that after independence, most of the young who were educated abroad returned home to help the national building effort in their respective fields. They were driven by a potent patriotic urge and an altruistic zeal to serve the country and the nation. Most of them joined the public service and helped construct the country, define the government policy framework and man the ministries, institutions and the state administrative apparatus. Those who stayed abroad to pursue their careers there were the exception rather than the rule. In the space of a few decades of inept political meddling, administrative impediments and pitfalls of every kind, nepotism and the absence of a transparent and merit based system of recruitment and promotion and ever changing goal posts, there has been a total reversal of the situation.

Today, for all these reasons and more, there is a growing exodus of the talented young to other countries. As descendants of immigrants living in a multicultural society we are de facto global citizens. Resilience to adapt to a new country comes naturally to us.

The patriotic urge to serve the country and help resolve its many challenging problems, family bonds, the sense of national kinship, the unique ethos of the country, its quality of life and low tax rate, etc., are all strong drivers for home coming. But these are outweighed by the many bottlenecks, constraints and interferences hobbling the country at different levels.

This continuous hemorrhage of its best talent would be lethal for the country. There is therefore an urgent need for a paradigm shift in approach to leverage talent and excellence over the rule of mediocrity. There is an imperative need to overhaul the present system, eliminate its systemic flaws and create the necessary conditions to bring our talented young back. The viability, success and prosperity of the country depend on it.

Mrinal Roy

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