Wales' brain drain problem: Can it ever be fixed?

Graduates Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption So-called "brain drain" has long been a problem in Wales

So-called Brain Drain has long been a problem in Wales.

Its landscape may be the envy of the world but graduate opportunities are lacking.

With no obvious solution to the problem the outlook looks bleak.

Dr David Hugh-Jones helped author a paper using UK Biobank data.

That found the healthy and better qualified left former industrial areas.

The study discovered not only was there a brain drain but a "gene drain".

Genetic distribution had dramatically changed because people left for big cities.

Dr Hugh-Jones, who grew up in the Welsh borders but now lives in Norwich, said it was "bad news" for areas that suffered.

Image copyright Family photo
Image caption Dr David Hugh-Jones helped write a paper that showed the existence of "gene drain"

"If an area becomes poor and the most ambitious people and everyone who has talent leaves, leaving just the left behind, that makes it much harder for that area to recover," he said.

He wished he had an answer.

"I don't think there is one," he said.

February 2018 research by the The Sutton Trust found 55.8% of young people in 2014-15 attended a university less than 55 miles (88km) from home.

Those from richer families were more likely to travel further. Only one in 10 went further than 150 miles (241km).

The report bemoaned "attending a distant university is too often the preserve of white, middle class, privately educated young people".

Sutton Trust chief executive James Turner said people should attend the university "best suited" to them, however "near or far".

It was important jobs were not concentrated in only in big cities.

Mr Turner said: "High quality graduate jobs need to be available in the regions too."

'There may not be much incentive to go back to rural communities'

Yousuf Bakshi attended Fitzalan High School, in Cardiff. He's studying computer science and government at Harvard, near Boston, USA.

The 18-year-old said the institution had "started changing" his view of the world.

Yousuf, who has a large Welsh flag in his room, would like to return home after his degree but "computer science is not very big in Wales".

He's considering internships at Microsoft and Google.

Image copyright Family photo
Image caption Yousuf Bakshi had to explain to Harvard dean, Rakesh Kurana, where Wales was

"Their offices are in London and Manchester," he said.

"Wherever the tech hub is, I will be there. I would like to go back to Wales but there is not much of an incentive for those in the tech field."

Yousuf said students should be encouraged to discover the world and their potential.

"There may not be much incentive to go back to rural communities," he said.

He said the government should help reinvigorate communities with "incentives for people to go to these rural areas and establish businesses and things."

Victoria Winckler heads inequality think-tank the Bevan Foundation.

It would be "unacceptable" to stop people leaving, so solving brain drain was "difficult".

Ms Winkler said: "It goes back to the perennial problem of the generally poorer state of the Welsh economy, and that there are not more high-level opportunities outside the cities."

Image copyright FAMILY PHOTO
Image caption Theo Davies-Lewis graduated from Oxford but wants to solve Wales' brain drain problem

A 2017 report by think-tank the Resolution Foundation found, of Welsh graduates who went to university in Wales and stayed for work, 40.6% were in non-graduate jobs.

It said Wales attracted 23,807 graduates between 2013 and 2016, but 44,335 left - a difference of 20,528.

Theo Davies-Lewis, from Cardiff, and Llanelli-born Owain James have founded a venture named Darogan to solve Wales' brain drain.

They aim to find opportunities to bring graduates back to Wales.

Mr Davies-Lewis said people going away "was not a bad thing". The difficulty was ensuring their return.

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Sutton Trust chief executive James Turner said people should be able to attend the university "best suited" to them

"People don't know the opportunities and there is no reason for them to," he said.

Public and private sectors needed to highlight Wales and opportunities there.

"In Cardiff you have got big law firms like Hugh James, recruitment firms like Acorn and an often thriving Welsh media," Mr Davies-Lewis said.

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption The Office of National Statistics said last year more people left London for Wales for the first time in more than five years

Dr Frances Gerrard is director of community clinical learning at Cardiff University's school of medicine.

The GP would like to see more people becoming doctors in Wales.

She said: "One of the problems Wales has faced in recent years has been a fall in the number of Welsh domiciled applicants into medicine."

She said that had started to change and applications rose last year.

Medical students were also being given the opportunity to study in Welsh locations outside of Cardiff.

"If you can get them in those areas they will appreciate them and might then want to stay," Dr Gerrard said.

Christine Bissex-Foster, enterprise head at The College Merthyr Tydfil, said: "There needs to be more effort and funding to bring people back to Wales."

Last year, according to the Office for National Statistics, 6,030 people left London to move to Wales last year, while 5,870 people moved from Wales to London.

It was the first time more people had come to Wales from London than the other way around in at least five years.

The Welsh Government insisted it was trying to get graduates to return to Wales.

It said Welsh universities were "part of our social fabric" that produced top graduates who became "doctors, teachers, engineers and all the other professions".

A spokesman said: "The Welsh Government is also providing incentives for Welsh graduates to return or remain here after graduation, including a new £2,000 bursary for students to study a master's degree in a science, technology, engineering, mathematics or medicine subject this academic year."

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