Bregu: Can you put a price tag on people leaving the region? In a way, yes, you can.
- 24 Nov 2023
RCC Secretary General on human capital and youth brain drain in the new edition of #TalkingPoint
Western Balkans is ranked among some of the economies most affected by brain drain, with expectations to lose around one million young people in the coming decade. People leaving the region does not only pose a risk to workforce availability but also threatens additional pressure to health care and pension systems in the region as well. If these projections are to come true, the Western Balkans could become an aging region very soon, making us in a constant need of additional resources.
In this edition of #TalkingPoint, Secretary General of the Regional Cooperation Council (RCC) Majlinda Bregu is talking about human capital and all the hurdles that follow, and are yet to follow excessive brain drain of the Western Balkans, opening a discussion about what can be done at both personal and institutional levels. Setting a new mind-set on migration, reutilising emigration, including creation of new national and regional youth policies, developed to cherish and value the young and skilled people from our region, could be the start.
“Hard numbers are hard to come by, but the Western Balkan economies are among the most affected by brain drain. Today, about one-fifth of the population born in the Western Balkans lives abroad. In the last five years, the overall working-age population in the Western Balkans declined by more than 400,000 individuals. While there are rising flows of migrants everywhere, the stride and intensity of youth brain drain rank our region among the brain drain front runners in the world, with estimations to lose between one quarter to half of our skilled and educated young citizens in the coming decades.
We know all the push factors for youth brain drain, from high unemployment and poverty to exclusion. We also know the pull factors as well, the geographical proximity to European Union, but also some EU member states going a step further in welcoming highly skilled Western Balkan immigrants. But I want to pose this story under a different angle.
How much does this actually cost us? Can you put a price tag on people leaving the region? In a way, yes, you can. On average, the cost of higher education per person ranges from over 18,000 EUR in Albania to 34,000 EUR in Serbia. At the same time, Bosnia and Herzegovina for example spends more than 50 million EUR annually on educating health professionals, some of whom might end up working elsewhere. Is the Western Balkans going to keep producing free labour force for others or are we going to create an environment for our youth to thrive?
What does youth think of all this? This year's edition of Balkan Barometer asked the young people about the priority areas they believe governments should pay more attention to. Job opportunities were highlighted by 47% of them, 38% mentioned education and 26% listed safety as a top priority. It also revealed that 70.6% of respondents aged 18-25 consider living and working abroad. If these intentions come true, the Western Balkans could become an aging society very soon.
So, what can we do? The region needs quick footwork. Some think creating a positive narrative that would alter the notion of brain drain as a national defeat, cherishing the diaspora, and reutilising the emigration, might be a good option. We think a favourable environment is a must, as people want to be where they feel valued and where they have the full capacity to provide value. When people have that, they stay,” said Bregu.