Amid waves of graduations across the region and new pools of job seekers, brain drain again becomes a key issue.
By Ivana Jovanovic for Southeast European Times in Belgrade -- 07/06/12
A billboard for one private university acknowledges the brain drain trend by asking potential students "What are you doing here? Finish and go away!" [Nada Bozic/SETimes]
Arguably the most universal dilemma shared by young people across the Balkans is the nagging question of whether the best course is to remain in their mother country or emigrate, or as the British rock band The Clash once sang -- "Should I stay or should I go?"
These young people, usually well educated, look abroad because of the dearth of jobs at home. In addition, there are generally fewer opportunities for personal and professional development, and a lack of respect for acquired education and knowledge.
It's more about who you know and how you play the game, some said.
"Getting a good job in Macedonia is mission impossible without friendships with interests and a membership card in some political party," Sonja Mitrevska, 30, a pharmacist from Skopje, told SETimes. She is now working a third, unpaid probationary period and wants to leave Macedonia to try to develop her career abroad.
Likewise, Marija Stojanovic of Belgrade is looking hard for a job abroad although she has a masters in communication and has held executive positions.
"If you have the stomach to go and search for the right people, give them money or publicly admire them though they don't deserve it, you can make progress here. Without this, you will be at the same level all your life," Stojanovic told SETimes.
Both want to go to countries offering better working conditions, with a knowledge-based economy such as the US, the UK, Germany, Canada, Sweden or Switzerland.
The most recent Global Economic Forum Competitiveness Report for 2011/2012 shows that while the Balkans is the poster child for brain drain, Serbia is hardest hit of all: it placed 139th among 142 countries, which means its best and brightest leave in droves to pursue opportunities elsewhere.
Moldova is 134th, Macedonia ranks 133rd, Romania is 131st, Bulgaria and BiH rank 127th and 126th respectively. Greece is at 119th, Turkey is 97th and Albania is at 83rd. Montenegro ranked best at 46th.
In Romania, the rate of brain drain has increased since it became an EU member. It was ranked 102nd in the report for 2008/2009. Bulgaria has remained unchanged at 127th, but Croatia, now at the EU's doorstep, has moved from 75th to 128th.
"The EU integration processes themselves do not expedite the brain drain but they do expedite the mobility of experts and scientists through various programmes and projects, such as the blue card -- a work permit similar to green card in the United States," Tanja Pavlov, director of the Centre for Migration in the NGO Group 484, told SETimes.
Some governments are taking action to stem the flow, however.
Serbia launched the ministry for youth five years ago, and established a fund that aims to provide young talent with the best available education in order to boost their professional development.
Through co-operation with the National Employment Service, participants are given priority in terms of jobs.
"The fund started the co-operation with leading companies and institutions -- for instance, our scholars are now working at Microsoft, Piraeus Bank, National Bank, universities and government agencies. The aim is that our young scholars become the new leaders in Serbia," Milos Radosavljevic, an official with the government's Working Group of the Fund for Young Talents, told SETimes.
In Bosnia and Herzegovina, the government of Republika Srpska has launched some measures of its own. One of them, administered by the ministry of family, youth and sports, subsidises interest rates on housing loans for young people, including couples.
This "makes it easier for young people to solve one of the most important issues -- housing -- and in this way obligates them to remain in Republika Srpska," Mirela Vujatovic, a ministry spokesperson, told SETimes.