In the last two decades, the emigration of scientists and skilled workers, also known as brain drain, has become a crucial barrier against the rapid growth of Iran. Every year, a considerable number of Iranians who could participate significantly in the development of their home country leave Iran permanently for another country. The approach that the Iranian government has taken toward this issue is quite sad and disappointing. They neither have any estimate of how extensive the problem is, nor a clear understanding of the problem and its possible solutions.
Emigration of the elite is the consequence of many political, social and economical factors and is not specific to Iran. Every year, many scientists leave Canada and Europe for the United States. Emigration of scientists and skilled workers even happens within the US from one state to the other. It is important to note that in Iran and to some extent in other countries, this problem and its solutions are not really different from other problems of society. As in the case of our home country, unless the government of Iran becomes more democratic and life becomes easier in financial respects, there is not any real hope that every year, many Iranians won't immigrate to other countries. It would be a big mistake if we think that the brain drain problem can be solved without taking care of the other problems of the society.
Although no short-term comprehensive solution is ahead of us, there is still a lot that could be done. A few approaches to this problem have been tried in different countries in the last two decades. The first is called "Preventive Policy," which is the attempt to keep scientists inside the country, in some cases by making immigration difficult. This policy has failed drastically in all the countries that have tried it. What is wrong with this policy is the assumption that separates the value of a scientist from his or her environment. In fact it is the interaction between a scientist and his or her community that brings success. A talented person in a country which can not appreciate it will not be productive.
The second option is called "Return Policy" and is followed by some new industrialized countries such as South Korea and China. These countries let their people go to the more developed countries for periods of work or study. At the same time, they try to make a strong scientific infrastructure in order to encourage their scientists to return home and use the expertise and knowledge they have gained. However this option can only be implemented in relatively rich countries with large financial resources and strong management. Sadly, it is a bit optimistic that Iran could invest on this option.
The other strategy is called "Diaspora Option". This policy is based on the fact that many of the scientists do not go back to their home country anyway. However, for cultural and personal reasons they would like to help, in any way they can. The goal of this policy is to systematize the connection between the scientists abroad and their home. There are several advantages to this approach. Firstly, since the scientists stay in the developed countries, the concern is not valid anymore that they may not be productive. Moreover this policy gives the opportunity to the developing countries to take advantage of the scientific environment of the developed countries through the contact with their scientists.
In the second part of this post, I will discuss how "Diaspora Option" can be implemented for Iran by giving a proposal for a "Network of Iranian Academics Abroad".
Jean-Baptiste Meyer and Mercy Brown, Scientific Diasporas:A New Approach to the Brain Drain, World Conference on Science, Hungary, 1999.