Sun, Sep 10, 2017 - Page 6 News List

Does Taiwan have a ‘brain drain’?

By Emilio Venezian

Let us turn to the idea that salary differences are a dominant factor in migration.

I am willing to believe that people with little understanding might react to propaganda driven by this notion. However, those with a better understanding of life should consider not the nominal pay level, but the purchasing power associated with that pay level.

The northeastern US faced a problem more than half a century ago: a massive inflow of families on welfare who were attracted to that part of the country because its levels of social assistance were much higher than in other locations.

Emphasizing the difference in public assistance just made the problem worse. What was being ignored was that other factors had to be brought to the public’s attention, the northeast’s higher cost of living in particular.

In many cases, people found themselves in a much worse economic predicament — despite higher welfare benefits, they could not match their original standard of living.

Maybe governments should play an active role in educating the public to the fact that differences in pay levels reflect, among other things, considerable differences in cost of living.

Universities along the Atlantic seaboard of the US have trouble attracting young talent, despite salaries that are higher than those in the US Midwest, as the cost of living more than erodes those differences.

Other factors such as quality of life should be considered — and they probably are. I have known academics who rejected offers in Beijing or Shanghai, but accepted offers in cities with less congestion and lower air pollution.

Some of these factors cannot be changed easily; others may be changed with little fuss.

People tend to settle down not too far from where they completed their studies. About 55 years ago the New Jersey legislature changed a law to permit Seton Hall University to open a medical school, as most medical students decide to practice in the state where they are educated and New Jersey was having trouble attracting physicians. As local education took hold, the doctor shortage shrank.

One potential strategy is to improve the education system. That can bring benefits in three ways: More students will study locally and settle here rather than abroad; talented people from other countries will be attracted to study here and will then settle in Taiwan; and the need for additional talented educators will be a third source of alleviating brain drain.

One other cause for the flight of talent deserves mentioning: misdirection in the educational system. I am not sure that we know enough about what future students think they are choosing when they select a subject to study.

We do know some of the things that go wrong in students’ determination of a career. One is the appeal of wealth. Young people are often misled by information as to which professions earn more money or require less effort. They seldom realize that these are not permanent features of the economy.

In the Sputnik era, the demand for engineers soared, and more students chose that as a profession. However, not long after they entered the workforce, there was a glut of engineers.

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