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THIS PAST WEEK a number of interconnected headlines in NATION publications caught the public’s interest based on reactions on nationnews.com and Facebook.
One was about a report on the brain drain of the island’s brightest and best talent who pursue greener pastures and enhanced opportunities overseas, particularly in Europe and North America.
Then there was the news that Carnival Cruise Line was offering Barbadians more employment opportunities on its vessels which now sail the Caribbean, North America, Honolulu and Europe.
Then there was Barbadian Dr Ronnie Yearwood, an attorney working between Britain and the British Virgin islands, calling for Barbadians educated by the state at the University of the West Indies to be required to pay some level of taxation, even if they are resident overseas.
All three stories are linked and should create some discussion beyond the mere social media responses which range from the absurd to the thought-provoking.
The truth is the brain drain is neither new nor shocking, since it is an avenue Barbadians have been using for many years, and will undoubtedly continue for many more to come. I dare say that emigration of trained nationals has not been a disastrous thing for Barbados. But there are risks which we must not ignore.
What this latest uproar brings into sharp focus is the need to look at tertiary education, to have succession planning as a serious management tool, and to embed leadership training in both the private and public sectors.
The first thing we must have is empirical data from the ministries of labour and education to show (if they have been tracking) where the talent is going, why it is going where and exactly the type of skills emigrating in search of what can only be considered better opportunities. We would also need to know how many Barbadians are going abroad each year to study, including doing their first degree, and do not return. This information highlighting these stats since the year 2000 would be very interesting.
Much of the talent we may be losing would perhaps be utilised in research, an area we have not funded very well. We simply cannot be leaders amongst the world’s “start-up nations” and compete in a modern global economy, if we do not put the funds into research, whether in agriculture, technology, medicine, alternate energy to name a few areas. The money simply hasn’t gone to the Cave Hill campus, whether from Government or the private sector. Yet we want to compete, survive and indeed enhance our standard of living.
Regarding Dr Yearwood and his suggestion, it remains unclear how his proposal would be applied. I would want him to explain why a Barbadian who has moved permanently to South Africa, for example, should be asked to pay taxes to the Barbados Revenue Authority. Wouldn’t it be better to get that individual to contribute to the island’s development in other creative ways?
There is general recognition in Barbados that education is the key to climbing out of poverty and turning both individual and country into a success story. A shift in mindset among Barbadian society is therefore required as it relates to the responsibility of graduates of the UWI to give back. It must go beyond repaying loans and bragging about the quality education they have received.
This change in consciousness should be matched by a state which must encourage and embrace researchers. The People’s Republic of China can teach us a thing or two in this regard. It is why China is now a superpower. We need to ensure the financial resources are available if we to become globally competitive and have pride of place amongst developing nations in the world economy. We can retain the best talent under such circumstances.
In the meantime, Barbadians will continue to look for opportunities such as what Carnival Cruise Line offers; a chance to see other places, mix with other people, learn different cultures and earn foreign exchange. It is something Barbadians have done for generations as the experiences in Panama, England, the United States and Canada all highlight. Bajan talent has always looked for opportunities wherever they exist.
• Eric Smith is the NATION’s Editor-In-Chief. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org