Albanian Brain Drain

Albania is suffering its worst post-communist calamity as the intelligentsia leave the country in droves.

Albanian Brain Drain

Albania is suffering its worst post-communist calamity as the intelligentsia leave the country in droves.

Friday, 9 November, 2001

Together with five friends, Altin graduated from university in Holland with good marks. None of them though are planning to return to Albania: it would endanger their careers.

Altin graduated in law and says it is difficult for him to return to Albania, "With my diploma I can have a nice job in the Netherlands but few chances and opportunities in my homeland. That is the biggest obstacle to my future."

Following World War II, Albania became the most isolated communist country in Eastern Europe. But with the painful transition to democracy, in early nineties, a great number of Albanians have left, mostly to find jobs abroad. Each day, long queues of those desperate for foreign visas form outside foreign embassies in Tirana.

The intelligentsia is suffering most. The newly graduated, officials and those who have received training abroad, exploit every possibility to leave.

The difficult socio-economic situation and the low esteem in which intellectuals are held, are the main factors pushing the educated abroad. It is estimated that some 600,000-700,000 Albanians are now working overseas, mainly in Greece and Italy.

According to the Emigration Office at the Ministry of Labour and Social

Affairs, roughly 67 per cent of educated Albanians have left the country in the last decade. About two-thirds of that figure are university professors and researchers from scientific institutions.

This trend is continuing. The desire to leave the country is getting

stronger and stronger as Albanians see few significant improvements. If

possible, they exploit any link they have with a foreign personality or

institution to discover a way to "flee" the country.

But it's no bed of roses when many manage to escape. Most Albanian intellectuals working abroad do not find employment in their chosen professions.

Universities have suffered most. During the last ten years, roughly 60 per cent of full-time professors have left. Many first get jobs with non-government organisations, as they provide them with an opportunity to work overseas.

The education ministry said the biggest brain drain came between 1992 and 1993, following the fall of communism, and between 1997 and 1998, in the wake of the failed pyramid investment schemes in which many Albanians lost their life savings.

"Economic and social factors have been the reasons behind such departures," said Valer Peshkëpia, an official at the education ministry, adding that this affects the fall in the quality of teaching in Albanian schools, as it is difficult to replace teachers who have left.

Many professors go abroad to study for a masters or first degrees and never return. "I left the country in 1996 for a masters scholarship. When I completed it, I did not come back as I managed to find a job at a university in Italy," said Artan Malaj, who has been living in Italy with his family for the past five years.

But the brain drain offers one compensating factor. Albanian

refugees who have settled in Western Europe are now helping the economy by sending money home. Remittances range from between 300 million and half a billion US dollars per year, a great assistance not only to their families but to the entire country.

Mirvjena Dizdari is a reporter with the Albanian daily Republika

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