Successes in combating Mongolian brain drain

Article on Mongolians returning to their homeland after being educated abroad to contribute to the economic and societal development of their nation. Original can be found here.

More and more Mongolians are enrolling in institutions abroad, and while student mobility benefits the economy, “brain drain” has posed a concern in the past. However, in recent years, there has been a decrease in the number of citizens who remain abroad. Individuals are increasingly returning to work in their motherland, motivated by both nostalgia and the country’s growing start-up scene.

Khash-Erdene Bayarsaikhan, who was educated in the United Kingdom, is one of these individuals. He chose to stay in Mongolia and now works at The UB Post.

“Even though the salary may not be high, there is the simple fact that Mongolia is home,” explained Khash. “People want to make a difference.”

Some Mongolians still do choose to remain abroad, which raises concerns about whether this will generate a loss of skills or intellect.

Bryce Loo, a research associate at World Education Services in New York, published an analysis of Mongolian brain drain in 2017 in the journal for International Higher Education.

“Around 2011, Mongolia’s economy boomed, with one of the fastest growth rates in the world, centered on the rapidly emerging mining sector. This fantastic growth was believed to have lured back many expatriates,” said Loo. “Recently, however, Mongolia’s economy has stagnated. This has likely prevented some Mongolians abroad from returning home, and incentivized many to emigrate.”

Jenny RB, a graduate of Harvard University who is currently working in Mongolia, testified this.

“A lot of people from my millennial generation Y went overseas to study for bachelor’s and master’s degrees and not all of them returned. The main reason at that time was our country is a developing country as compared to other countries, for instance the USA,” she explained. “Our average annual income is well below, living conditions not as convenient as urban cities, health and safety issues always a concern, and so on. So for some people who freshly graduated from university and received an attractive job offer [outside of Mongolia], it can be considered a great opportunity to challenge yourself and accumulate experience if you have no strings attached back home.”

The consequences of brain drain are not just economic, but societal. It is important for Mongolians to develop a sense of national identity. In order to do this, intellectuals and skilled workers need to support socioeconomic growth and represent the very best that their country has to offer.

In terms of solutions for countering brain drain, Loo proposes incentivizing return after graduation. The government should increase funding for research and development budgets to encourage academics to return.

Furthermore, improving employment prospects could alleviate brain drain.

“Incentives beyond higher salaries, such as providing returned students with employment services, may help,” said Loo. “Where students and scholars do not return, Mongolian higher education can still find ways to benefit from these expatriates through ‘brain circulation’, or research collaboration and knowledge-sharing.”

Jenny also agreed. She also cited Uber, AirBnb, and many other companies with creative, cutting-edge business models as a possible way to encourage young Mongolians to return following graduation.

“I would definitely encourage students to return home… challenge yourself with your creative mind to develop your country with a worldwide expansion possibility,” she said. “Meanwhile, all the rest such as living conditions and health and safety issues will be eventually improved as a whole with input from yourself and myself.”

AMSA, the Association of Mongolian Students in America, provides students who study abroad in the United States with support. They hold programs to assist with applications and SATs. They also help students bring back the skills they acquired in the US to better Mongolia’s development.

“We try to show professional opportunities in Mongolia to our members by organizing company tours and letting them know about new job openings as much as we can,” said Khaliunaa Munkhuu, president of AMSA and a graduate of New York University.

AMSA also looks to entrepreneurship to encourage more students to return to Mongolia. “It is becoming harder to get a job in the US as companies are turning away from sponsoring international students,” said Khaliunaa. “Meanwhile, the flourishing startup scene in Mongolia seems to show promise to those students who might have felt as though that they had less of a shot at succeeding in Mongolia.”

Indeed, foreign-educated individuals have recently been exploring entrepreneurship with increasing success. For example, Batjin Boldbat, a graduate of Williams College, founded Ulaanbaatar Passport, which offers “visas” to choice bars and clubs in the city. Other examples of flourishing start-ups include Kaizen Mongolia, HappyHome, Citimine and others.

In 2015, the National Statistical Office of Mongolia released a census of Mongolians living abroad. According to the results, 87,423 Mongolian citizens were living abroad for six months or longer. This comprises three percent of the total population, reduced from approximately four percent in 2010. The age group with the most citizens living abroad were those 20-24 years old.

The place of origin of these individuals was most commonly Ulaanbaatar, followed by the Bayan-Ulgii and Darkhan-Uul provinces. More females than males lived abroad. According to the World Bank’s analysis of the gender gap in brain drain, women’s brain drain may generate higher relative losses than male brain drain.

“Societies that […] lose a high proportion of skilled women through emigration may experience slower growth and reduced income,” says the World Bank. This is because of a global rise in female tertiary education; women are more likely to go abroad for study.

The top countries with significant populations of Mongolians are China, South Korea, the United States, the Czech Republic, the United Kingdom, Canada, and Japan.

However, it is important to note that these figures include individuals who are in non-specialized physical labor jobs. No data was provided that reveals how many of individuals abroad are considered “skilled” versus “unskilled.”

More Mongolians are pursuing tertiary education opportunities both domestically and abroad, the start-up scene in the nation is growing, and the population abroad seems to be shrinking. Although some individuals who go abroad never come back, the government, researchers, and networking organizations continue to improve economic conditions to incentivize their return.

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