Can educational migration save the world?

Allowing more people from poorer countries to study in wealthier ones would provide benefits all around

Published : 30 Mar 2022 09:40 PM | Updated : 30 Mar 2022 09:41 PM

In the never-ending quest to make the world a better place, a new idea is beginning to draw more attention: educational migration. If you want to assist someone in a poor country, why not spend extra money and help them get a good college education in the West?

Part of the appeal of educational migration is that it combines the gains from two beneficial ideas. It is not unusual, for instance, for a migrant from Africa, moving to a wealthier country, to earn 20 times the income. That higher productivity also represents goods and services produced for the consumers of the receiving country. And of course some number of those migrants may go on to win Nobel Prizes or make other notable achievements.

The US has a longstanding history of people moving here to study 

and then becoming smashingly successful. The beauty of educational 

migration is that it can help more people, in America and around the

 world, reach their maximum potential

By educating the migrant, a skilled rather than unskilled worker is entering the labor force. Unlike with many foreign aid programs, these wage boosts and achievements are likely to be sustainable gains. That will limit future reliance on welfare benefits and should make the program more politically palatable. These now-educated workers are less likely to create downward pressure on the wages of the poorer classes in Western societies — an ongoing source of tension, whether those worries are justified or not.

As fertility rates fall and populations start to shrink in many Western nations, labor shortages can be expected. Educational migration can help address that. At the same time, poorer parts of the world such as Africa have a glut of raw talent, but they lack the infrastructure to train, mentor and employ it to its maximum potential.

While “brain drain” from poor countries is a legitimate concern, these programs are hardly sucking those countries dry of all of their talent. More important, successful migrants often invest back in the home country, carry back know-how, provide role models and send remittances. India, for instance has benefited from having so many successful Indians in the US. Furthermore, many people in poor countries will strive to leave but be unable to. In the meantime they will have become better educated.

One charity investing in educational migration is Malengo, which helps Ugandans study in German universities. Germany is an especially effective receiving country for educational migration because its higher education fees are close to zero. Furthermore, some undergraduate programs are taught in English, which is a national language in Uganda.

According to Malengo, 98,392 Ugandan students took an advanced certificate exam in 2020, and of that group 68,222 received high enough grades to qualify for study in Germany. Of course in many instances what is lacking is the money, as deposits are required to receive the student visa and then living expenses must be paid. Still, once they are studying in Germany, it is legal for the students to take part-time jobs; eventually, German or other employers may wish to hire them into full-time jobs.

One nice feature of educational migration is that there are some natural domestic interest groups in support of the core idea — namely, educators and universities, as well as many corporations. Even opponents of immigration may find highly motivated, pre-qualified students to be less threatening than other groups.

The educational migration idea also has potential for the US, though with additional hurdles. American universities typically offer some tuition aid to foreign students, but they could pledge to do more. Imagine if every school in America offered 10 additional zero-tuition slots a year to students from very poor countries. The strain on the facilities of most schools would be minimal, yet with about 5,000 institutions of higher education in America, that could amount to tens of thousands of new slots for educational migrants.

Given the great and justified interest in helping emigrants from Ukraine, the US and other countries might also consider special programs for Ukrainian students. Millions are leaving Ukraine, and while the charitable response has been impressive, over the longer term these individuals will need to find good jobs. Education is one major step toward this end.

It remains to be seen how readily educational migration can be scaled. Not all students from poor countries have the linguistic and cultural preparation to study in the West. They may require mentoring, and they may have difficulties navigating the university application process. Universities, and the charities working with them, may have to work harder to create admissions tests that are relevant, challenging and secure. Still, they may get better at those tasks the more they try to make educational migration work.

The US has a longstanding history of people moving here to study and then becoming smashingly successful. The beauty of educational migration is that it can help more people, in America and around the world, reach their maximum potential.

Tyler Cowen Is a Bloomberg Opinion Columnist. 

Source: Bloomberg