Biggest brain drain from UK in 50 years
By Robert Winnett
Deputy Political Editor
Last Updated: 4:06am GMT 21/02/2008
Britain is experiencing the worst “brain drain” of any country as highly qualified professionals settle abroad, an authoritative international study showed yesterday.
Record numbers of Britons are leaving – many of them doctors, teachers and engineers – in the biggest exodus for almost 50 years.
There are now 3.247 million British-born people living abroad, of whom more than 1.1 million are highly-skilled university graduates, say the researchers.
More than three quarters of these professionals have settled abroad for more than 10 years, according to the study by the Organisation of Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD).
No other nation is losing so many qualified people, it points out. Britain has now lost more than one in 10 of its most skilled citizens, while overall only Mexico has had more people emigrate.
The figures, based on official records from more than 220 countries, will alarm Gordon Brown as tens of thousands of pounds of taxpayers' money is spent on educating graduates. The cost of training a junior doctor, for example, is 250,000.
The most popular destinations are English-speaking countries such as Australia, America, Canada and New Zealand and holiday areas including France and Spain.
Almost 60 per cent of those leaving take jobs, although hundreds of thousands of retired people live abroad.
The report is a statistical analysis which does not study the motivation for leaving Britain. However, high house prices and taxes and poor climate are frequently cited.
A spokesman for the Paris-based OECD said last night: “British people have lots of opportunities to move and work abroad so very highly-skilled people are travelling around. It is seen by many British people as part of their personal development to have some experience abroad.”
Britain's exodus is far higher than any of the OECD's other 29 members. Germany has lost only 860,000 highly-skilled workers, America 410,000 and France 370,000.
The OECD found that 27.3 per cent of those emigrating had health or education qualifications, 37.7 per cent had humanities or social science degrees and 28.5 per cent were scientists or engineers.
Britain has a shortage of graduates in many of these fields and universities have long warned that some of the brightest hopes are being lost to higher salaries abroad.
The report cited research suggesting that 62 per cent of the world's “star scientists” live in the US, primarily because of the efforts made by American research universities to attract them.
Danny Sriskandarajah, a migration expert at the IPPR think-tank, said: “There is a long-term trend of British people lured abroad by a slightly better lifestyle. They are actively targeted by countries such as Australia and New Zealand.”
The emigration was leading to a rapid change in British society as large numbers of highly-skilled immigrants moved to this country to replace those leaving, he said.
“Britain has been lucky – although it has lost substantial numbers of people, it has attracted more than a million skilled immigrants to replace them. If they stop coming then that would be a problem.”
Figures from the Office for National Statistics last year, suggested that 207,000 Britons – one every three minutes – left in 2006. The emigration rate is at its highest since just after the Second World War.
The term brain drain was coined in the 1950s following the mass emigration of scientists and other experts to America. Tens of thousands of people also left the country to escape the industrial unrest and high taxes of the 1970s.
Damian Green, the shadow immigration minister, said: “Ten years of Labour has re-created the brain drain. High taxes and Government interference are driving people away.”
The study found that foreign-born people make up 8.3 per cent of Britain's population. A House of Lords report into the economic impact of migration is due next month.
Prof David Coleman, of St John's, Oxford, said the brain drain was “to do with quality of life, laws and bureaucracy, tax and all the rest of it”.
Prof Christian Dustmann, of University College London, said: “The costs of leaving a country are substantial. The rewards must be very high.”
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