Brain gain
Slowing the exodus of African professionals to the West

For decades, development across Africa has been hampered by a phenomenon known as “brain drain”—the exodus of educated professionals to the industrialized West. An exchange program between Tufts and one African university has made significant strides in addressing the problem, and, its organizers say, could lay the groundwork for similar partnerships.

At the University of Ghana, Sam Stiegler, A06, who is now pursuing his master’s degree in education at Tufts, and Leticia Laryea, a program assistant for the Tufts-in-Ghana program in Legon.

“We think this is a model worthy of emulation,” said Pearl Robinson, associate professor of political science and director of Tufts’ Africa in the New World program. “It is a way to turn ‘brain drain’ into ‘brain gain.’ ”

Like most Tufts study-abroad programs, the Tufts-in-Ghana program contains an exchange element. The novel aspect is this: For every six Tufts undergraduates who go to the University of Ghana at Legon each fall, one junior instructor (those who have not completed their Ph.D.s) from Legon comes to Tufts as a graduate fellow. And those instructors must pledge to return to Ghana and remain there for at least two years.

This semester, 15 Tufts juniors are in Ghana, while two graduate fellows from Legon are studying on the Medford/Somerville campus. Ayishetu Abdul-Kadiri, a master’s degree candidate in religion at the University of Ghana and the health coordinator for the Federation of Muslim Women’s Associations of Ghana, is taking courses in comparative religions and urban and environmental policy; Benjamin Toboh, M.D., who’s working on an M.S. in biological sciences at Legon, is taking courses here in biology, anthropology, computer science and engineering.

The hope is that these young scholars will use their U.S. education to jump-start their careers at home and remain committed to working in Africa.

“These people go back and contribute to their university in significant ways,” Robinson said. Out of 25 teaching staff from Legon who have participated in the program since its inception a decade ago, 22 have returned to university jobs in Ghana, and most have completed their doctorates, she said.

“This is nothing short of phenomenal,” she said. “If 20 other universities in the United States were doing this, study-abroad programs could have a major impact on the academic quality of universities in Africa.”

The exchange illustrates Tufts’ philosophy of study-abroad: Along with educating Tufts’ own undergraduates, the university is taking a leadership role in tackling a global issue, said Janna Behrens, program and outreach coordinator for Tufts’ Office of Programs Abroad.

Longtime problem
Brain drain has been occurring for decades but has become particularly acute in recent years. Between 1975 and 1984, 40,000 people left Africa for the West, according to estimates from the U.N. Economic Commission for Africa and the International Organization for Migration. Since 1990, at least 20,000 people have migrated each year.

“Brain drain in Africa is at least a 20-year story or longer,” said Robinson, who helped develop the Tufts-in-Ghana program with David Locke, associate professor of music, in the mid-’90s. The idea of enabling teaching staff who have not completed their Ph.D.s to spend a year at Tufts came at the prompting of the Ghanaians.

Fifteen Tufts juniors are currently studying at the University of Ghana in Legon.

“Given that we have a limited number of funded exchange places, the University of Ghana prefers to use the exchange as a way of enhancing its staff development program,” said Chris Gordon, dean of international education programs at the University of Ghana. Those handling the selection process in Ghana were concerned with “ensuring that an applicant would come back to the university.”

The exchange program is financed internally by funds derived from the difference between what study-abroad students pay as Tufts tuition and tuition paid to the University of Ghana.

Ghana, Ethiopia and Nigeria are the African countries that have been hardest hit by brain drain. For instance, at least 60 percent of doctors trained in Ghana during the 1980s have left the country, according to the U.N. Development Program.

Economic toll
The toll is not merely intellectual. Across the African continent, it costs governments, universities and industry an estimated $4 billion a year to pay westerners for professional and technical assistance. The reasons Africans leave are many, ranging from the career and financial opportunities available in the West to unstable economies or political repression in some African nations. (While Ghana now has a democratic government, it was roiled for many years by a series of military coups.)

“The global marketplace assumes people go where opportunities are,” Robinson said. “For people who have the possibility of moving for a better job, there has to be a reason to stay where they are.” As long as Africa remains, for the most part, under-developed, people with skills will continue to leave, she said, “so part [of the exchange program with Tufts] is about making the African university a place where well-trained people can work, use their professional skills and educate their children.

“You don’t need to make as much money if you’re living in Africa, but if you want to be able to work at the top of your profession, how do you do that?” Robinson asked.

‘I would love to help my country’
Albert Nii-Moe Allotey has asked the same question. Allotey, a Ph.D. candidate in geography at the University of Ghana, spent the 2005-06 academic year at Tufts, taking courses in urban and environmental planning and working on his dissertation about cocoa farming in western Ghana.

“I have decided to go back and help, but it is sacrificial, because it takes a very long time [in Ghana] for one like me to become independent,” said Allotey, who is married, has two children and has been working as a research assistant in Legon since 2000.

“I could have decided not to return to Ghana, but personally, I would love to help my country and to bring up young guys,” he said. And, he added, with his new knowledge and university contacts, “I know I am very marketable.”

Being a Tufts graduate fellow confers a certain status on those who return to Legon, which is one of the oldest institutions of higher learning in Africa, Robinson said. “There is an esprit de corps.” Returnees complete their Ph.D.s and strengthen their university’s capacity to fulfill its triple mission of teaching, research and service. Back home, they become ground-level participants in the global transformation of African higher education. They contribute to “the brain gain,” Robinson said. In this sense, “you have more going for you [in Ghana] than if you had stayed” in the United States.

Helene Ragovin is a senior writer in Tufts’ Office of Publications. She can be reached at