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1. Introduction As they near graduation, highly educated young adults begin to make important decisions about employment, career, marriage and family. In the early 21st century, increasing numbers of students around the world must also decide where they want to pursue these plans. Things are no different in South Africa. Since the end of apartheid, young South Africans have been able to look beyond the country’s borders to find employment. Yet while greater opportunities and a wider range of choice may be good news for South Africa’s talented tertiary students, it may be bad news for the country as a whole, robbing the country of considerable investments in training and education, as well as depriving the economy of needed skills and upper-end consumers. Virtually all South African analyses of the ‘brain drain’ have focused on the negative aspects of skilled people emigrating (Haffajee, 1998; Van Rooyen, 2001; Bhorat et al., 2002; Crush, 2002; Dumont & Meyer, 2004). Yet some analysts argue that the word ‘loss’ is misguided since emigration also brings gains (Meyer, 2001; Khadria, 2002; Martin & Widgren, 2002; Commander et al., 2003). Emigrés not only remit income while abroad but also tend to return home and pass on advanced skills to their colleagues. This has led to the increasing use of terms such as skills ‘transfer’, ‘exchange’ and ‘circulation’ (Abella, 1997; Stalker, 2000; Wimaldharma et al., 2004). In fact, some argue that skills migration is not only a reality but is also necessary for industrial growth and cultural exchange in highly specialised societies (Khadria, 2002). But, regardless of whether skilled emigration includes gains as well as RESTLESS MINDS: SOUTH AFRICAN STUDENTS AND THE BRAIN DRAIN ROBERT MATTES AND NAMHLA MNIKI 2 Chapter|25| losses, a brain drain is likely to be particularly damaging to an economy when skilled people leave relatively soon after training and the country fails to receive any appreciable return on its direct investments. Yet while the past ten years have seen a great deal of debate on the South African government ’s immigration policies, there is still no precise estimate of the extent of emigration from South Africa, or its causes. For example, Statistics SA estimated total emigration from 1989 to 1997 at approximately 82 000, including 11 000 ‘professionals.’ Yet a study of South Africans living in just five countries abroad put the total number at 232 000, of whom 42 000 were ‘professionals’ (a category narrower than that of ‘skilled’) (Brown et al., 2002). Using census data, another study argued that at least one million white South Africans emigrated between 1985 and 1996 (Van Rooyen, 2001). In a more predictive mode, an analysis of a 1998 nationally representative survey of skilled adults estimated that approximately 2 per cent (or 30 000 adults) had a ‘very high’ probability of leaving within the next five years, and another 160 000 had a ‘high’ probability (Mattes & Richmond, 2000). Thus, this study attempts to look into the future and assess potential emigration among South Africa’s potential skills base: that is, young adults in tertiary training institutions. It also tests competing arguments that purport to explain the reasons behind South Africa’s brain drain. 2. Methodology This chapter is based on data collected by the Southern African Migration Programme (SAMP) about the region’s potential skills base. Conceptually, the target population for the SAMP Potential Skills Base Survey was South Africa’s skills in training. Skilled persons are defined as those who have received specialised training and possess key competencies and skills vital to the functional core of the economy (Mattes & Richmond, 2000). Thus, a country’s potential skills base consists of those people currently training to fill positions critical to that functional core. This study defined South Africa’s current potential skills base as consisting of students (a) studying at a South African tertiary institution (university, technikon or college); and (b) in the final year of an undergraduate or postgraduate degree programme. However, no national database of tertiary student numbers exists, especially of final year students. Thus, in mid-2002, the authors collected this data from registrars at each tertiary institution across the country. On the basis of this definition, South Africa’s potential skills base in 2002 was estimated at approximately 150 000 students (see Table 1). At the first stage of sampling, a list was compiled of all teaching faculties at all tertiary institutions across the country and the numbers of their final year students. This list of faculties was then stratified...


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