Written by Joanna Hughes

A recent report in The Standard highlights a new trend among Africans with international PhD degrees: While at one time most went on to pursue academic careers abroad, many are now returning to Africa. Here’s a closer look at the shift, along with why it’s so important.

From Brain Drain…

Several factors led to the decades-long “brain drain” in parts of Africa. According to The Standard, these included hostile political situations in their home countries, the dominance of the discourse abroad and the superior working conditions found in the West. As a result, most academics had no incentive to return to their native countries.

….To Brain Boost

Now, however, more African academics are cultivating ties with universities on their home continent. The region’s explosive growth in the higher education sector is a large part of the turnabout, with enrollments in sub-Saharan African universities skyrocketing to ten million from a scant 200,000 between 1970 and 2013.

But higher education opportunities are not the sole draw -- especially given that many of the returning African PhDs are leaving behind established careers in Europe and North America. Writers Richard Alemdjrodo and Duncan Omanga propose the existence of other issues, including “a longing for social fulfillment needs” and the glass ceiling for minorities in Western societies. “As a result, returning academics feel they can best grow and achieve their full leadership potential in the continent,” they conclude.

This is not to say that adjusting to the academic life in Africa is easy on researchers. Alemdjrodo and Omanga also point out obstacles to staying, including low wages and difficulty adapting to both social dynamics and African universities’ lack of infrastructure. To that end, the writers recommend African governments step up efforts to recruit and retain returning scholars. They also highlight the value of maintaining connections between African and Western higher education institutions.

The payoffs will be worth it, insist Alemdjrodo and Omanga. “Academics returning to Africa have to make necessary sacrifices to reintegrate themselves and adapt to the working conditions in African universities. While this may take some time, it opens up opportunities for such scholars to contribute meaningfully to the development of their home universities and societies,” they write.

Joanna worked in higher education administration for many years at a leading research institution before becoming a full-time freelance writer. She lives in the beautiful White Mountains region of New Hampshire with her family.
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