Dr. Philip Oxhorn, Founding Director of McGill’s Institute for the Study of International Development, announces that ISID is hosting an important two-day conference in March on Maximizing the Contribution of Higher Education to Development in Africa

It is no longer a given that Africans should study in the North, and funders increasingly are focusing their resources on enabling students to study in Africa. Regardless of where they study, the options available to highly educated Africans have grown, contributing to the emergence of “multi-directional brain flows” between the global North and South, including a growing number of students from developing countries who are able to fund their own education. The educational and career paths for African students are more fluid than ever before. Their ability to contribute to development in their home countries similarly reflects new options. These include the influence they may exercise from abroad through remittances, to the ways globalization has contributed to the ability of immigrants to rise to positions of power and influence in the North: roles that can have profound impact on the development prospects of their countries of origin.

Should I Stay or Should I Go?
Maximizing the Contribution of Higher Education to Development in Africa

International Conference, Institute for the Study of International Development, McGill University,
Montreal, March 19-21, 2015
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Since at least the 1960s, a number of programs have enabled promising students from developing countries to attend institutions of higher education in the global North. In many cases, these programs have sought to equip students to contribute more effectively to development in their own countries. The expectation, if not the formal requirement attached to such funding, was that alumni of these programs would return to their home countries for a minimum period of time. Their return was seen as the surest way to contribute to building needed human resources within developing countries while minimizing real and perceived “brain drain”. In the context of the Cold War, these returning students were seen as ideal ambassadors for the merits of competing lifestyles and political systems, which in turn helped legitimize large government expenditures for these programs, in both the East and West.

Today, the world is markedly different, and arguably more complex. Globalization has integrated national economies in unprecedented ways, through free trade agreements and largely unfettered capital flows, as well as more integrated global labour markets for highly educated people. It is no longer a given that Africans should study in the North, and funders increasingly are focusing their resources on enabling students to study in Africa. Regardless of where they study, the options available to highly educated Africans have grown, contributing to the emergence of “multi-directional brain flows” between the global North and South, including a growing number of students from developing countries who are able to fund their own education. The educational and career paths for African students are more fluid than ever before. Their ability to contribute to development in their home countries similarly reflects new options. These include the influence they may exercise from abroad through remittances, to the ways globalization has contributed to the ability of immigrants to rise to positions of power and influence in the North: roles that can have profound impact on the development prospects of their countries of origin.

Yet despite these trends, fundamental issues relating to the scarcity of skilled labor remain as true today as they were in the 1960s for many developing countries, as the Ebola epidemic reminds us. Indeed, there is an ambiguous mix of change and continuity which suggests that now is an ideal time to reconsider the basic assumptions undergirding past and current donor policies regarding how highly educated people from the global South might best contribute to the development prospects of their home countries. While both funders and scholarship recipients generally share the same goals, it is important to learn more about the factors that determine access to scholarships, the opportunities available to scholars to give back to their communities, and the role that funders, program implementers and educators can play in helping scholars to do so.

More specifically, this conference is intended to address seven broad themes:
1. How do African scholarship recipients understand their potential contributions to the development of their home societies? Does this differ among students who study in their home countries, in other African countries, or in the global North?
2. To what extent do scholarship recipients create their own opportunities for contributing to the development of their home societies?
3. To what extent do funders and institutions provide opportunities and guidance for scholarship recipients so they can contribute optimally to the development of their home societies?
4. What factors determine access to scholarship programs and how can funders increase access?
5. What factors determine the direction of brain flows, do they vary over the course of an individual’s stage in life, and how do these impact development possibilities in Africa?
6. Who is and is not finding employment in Africa? What can funders and educational institutions do to help students better integrate themselves into job markets?
7. For African students studying abroad, what role can social networks play in maintaining student ties to their home countries, helping them identify and exploit opportunities there? What approaches are funders and institutions taking with respect to building and maintaining alumni networks?

Details to follow