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The Unprecedented Greek Brain Drain

With the Greek economy in the throes of crisis, and its exit from the EU imminent, employment prospects for educated Greek professionals seem bleak. Questions over their homeland’s future have caused a mass exodus among many educated Greeks. The emigration of Greece’s most talented professionals has earned an informal name in the media; they are called ‘Grexit’s.

In fact, the modern western world has never before experienced a brain drain on this scale; Emigration levels have increased by 300% from before the crisis hit at the onset of the Great Recession. This diaspora exceeds 200,000.

Of those that have emigrated, educated professionals represent a sweeping majority, with up to 180,000 possessing a university degree. Over 10% of Greek professionals currently work and reside abroad.
After looking at the figures, it is not hard to understand why so many young and talented Greeks have left their homeland. The employment rate for those under 24 stands at an abysmal 50%, and between 2008 and 2013 Greece lost nearly 1 million jobs—over half of which belonged to young people. Considering that Greece’s total population stands at around 11 million, this represents a substantial decline in employment opportunities.

Those that have escaped the inhospitable economic climate have found better job prospects in professional fields abroad. Destinations in Europe are the most popular, with countries like Germany and the UK accepting more than half of Greece’s emigrants.

Germany in particular has become a receptacle for many aspiring Greek doctors, as its well-funded healthcare system has a large demand for personnel. So far, 35,000 Greek doctors have traveled to Germany where their pay is substantially better. Ironically, Greece actually possesses a surplus of medical professionals and has more neurosurgeons than even Germany, the largest country in Europe by population. This fact highlights an important, yet tragic, facet of the Greek Brain Drain; Greece possesses a disproportionally large number of high achieving and highly educated people, many of whom have already left.

Three percent of the world’s most prominent scientists hail from Greece. While that figure may seem measly, Greece’s population represents only .2 percent of the global population. Despite all of Greece’s scientific heft, 85% of these globally recognized scientists conduct their research and reside outside of their home country.

For Greece, this represents a devastating loss of investment. Funds spent on education, from both government programs and from family’s pockets, has essentially gone to waste; those who have enjoyed a Greek education and then chose to work abroad are not innovating at home. With so many talented professionals leaving, it will become more challenging for Greece to pull itself out of its depression.

Greek professionals are not alone, as 46% of Greeks have entertained the idea of emigrating from their home country. With this attitude settling upon many, the problem has only compounded. According to the managing director of Endeavor Greece, Haris Makryniotis, “there is a sense of paralysis, and it’s gotten worse since the elections in December.”

Greek banks have also mirrored this mindset and have stopped giving out loans. According to a report by CNBC, this “means that if you are running a business, there is no debt financing available for working capital right now. And if you are an entrepreneur looking for start-up capital, investors are not untying their purse strings.” Effectively the Greek economy is at a standstill.

There are no quick solutions to a crisis such as this. In order for Greece to prosper, its people, including its reluctant expatriates, must look towards the future. Many hope to return once the economy is back on its feet. Hopefully, at the end of their odyssey abroad, they will find themselves back home once again.

Andrew Logan

Sources: CNBC, The Economist, The Guardian, NPR
Photo: CNBC