Funded by the Volkswagen Foundation, this international symposium was organised by the Dialogue of Civilizations Research Institute (Berlin) together with the Tajik National University in Dushanbe.
The topic was of crucial importance to the development of political economies in Central Asia: labour migration and brain drain.
The question was how brain drain, i.e., the migration of students and high-skilled workers to foreign countries, could be altered such that it becomes brain circulation, thus ultimately creating opportunities for ‘brain gain’.
The symposium was the first event of this kind in Central Asia and gathered a total of 50 senior scholars with established backgrounds in the topic, policymakers, representatives of international organisations, and younger researchers at the beginning of their careers.
Very little is known to scholars outside the region (for example, those from Europe, US, and other parts of the world) about the socio-political and economic relevance of labour migration and brain drain in Central Asia. Nevertheless, the topic is of crucial importance and has received considerable attention from scholars and research institutes in Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan, and Tajikistan.
Incidentally, it should be noted that it was not possible to induce Turkmen researchers joining the symposium. In any case, opportunities to exchange information and share data across the national borders of Central Asian countries remain limited. This holds equally for coordinated political responses and joint strategies to alleviate the problem.
The symposium, therefore, represented an outstanding chance to do precisely this: to get together, create networks, identify common and more specific aspects linked to the topic, and come up with suggestions for researchers and practitioners across the entire region.
Most contributors did not adopt a proper comparative perspective. They were rather concerned with presenting up-to-date accounts of the status quo of different dimensions relevant to brain drain and labour migration in their country of origin. Assisted by recent reports from the World Bank, the ILO, the UN, and other international organisations, it was nevertheless possible to draw several key conclusions from the symposium to be used for policy recommendations. They are briefly listed in what follows.
The symposium demonstrated that extended periods of the loss of scarce human capital and the emigration of skilled labour represent serious problems. The scope of the phenomenon is dramatic.
Outlining the status quo and presenting some key suggestions of how the problem can best be handled, the policy brief makes a distinction between the principal causes responsible for the massive number of migrants in the region and, on the other hand, the symptoms triggered by these causes. It is argued that combatting the causes would require a long-term strategy aimed at structural and institutional reform that cannot be expected to unfold overnight. Yet, several solutions may be envisaged to alleviate the scope of the symptoms. These concern problems of cross-national cooperation, of remittances, and of the use of migrant communities abroad, i.e., of different diasporas in host countries.
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