The Algerian minister of higher education and scientific research, Mr. Rachid Haraoubia, proudly announced yesterday that 100% of the Algerian students and university teachers who received a state sponsorship during the past five years have returned to Algeria at the end of their studies.
He unfortunately didn’t give any details on these people. What specialities they followed, how long they stayed abroad, etc.? But I believe most of them were university teachers as this has been the trend for the past years. And this might explain the high (perfect) return rate.
Bouteflika decided in 2005 to stop sponsoring the top Algerian students in the baccalaureate exams since only a tiny minority returned home after they graduated. These students were indeed sent to the UK, France and Tunisia with annual costs going up to £20k/year/student in the UK. The laureates are now directed to the newly created Preparatory Classes for the National High Schools (a copy of the famous French CPGE) where they prepare admission exams to the transformed National High Schools. This system does also exist in Tunisia and Morocco with the difference that the Moroccan and Tunisian students are allowed to take the French High Schools exams.
The ministry still sponsors some graduate students to prepare PhDs, and these also rarely go home after they get their diplomas. Signing a binding contract didn’t change the situation, which pushed some officials to consider the Egyptian and Syrian examples: use the families’ properties as mortgages. But this was never implemented.
There are also more and more students who decide to pursue their education abroad and use those own financial means. And most of them don’t go back to Algeria either. I know of sponsored and non-sponsored PhD holding people who rather work in restaurants or as taxi drivers in Canada than teach in the Algerian universities. I must say this is something I don’t get.
The brain-drain is not only an academic phenomenon. Many highly skilled professionals leave Algeria for a better life abroad. We can mention the engineers working with Sonatrach who move to multinationals working in Algeria before leaving to the US or the Gulf, or take the opportunity of a training in Houston to stay there. The same goes for Air Algerie’s crews (pilots and stewards alike) or some of the Telecom engineers who don’t go back to their jobs after training periods in Europe or Asia. And the Algerian medics’ situation in France is telling: they prefer to stay there despite the French medical system which is unfair to foreigners.
Reports say that the Algerian university has lost around 40000 teachers and researchers during the 90s and it’s clear that Algeria must encourage the Algerian doctors abroad to go back and teach in the university. This should be relatively feasible especially with the young ones who face unemployment abroad or keep moving from a post-doc to another. The ministry should improve the way it deals with the “equivalence” and reduce the applications processing times.
Regarding the other categories, I am not convinced that Algeria must try to get them back at any cost. Priority must be given to those who are in Algeria so that no more would leave the country. Providing decent jobs and pays, and encouraging creativity and entrepreneurship are some of the many serious actions the Algerian authorities must do.
Those abroad will be more useful in a collaboration relationship, like we already see with some associations such as the ACA or REAGE.
The examples above show that the few hundreds who returned are far from changing the trend. And bigger efforts are necessary to convince the Algerians in Algeria that a decent and happy life is possible in the country.