Austerity's Brain Drain in Spain

Education is commonly touted as the most effective antidote to poverty and the best means to economic prosperity. Contemporary Europe provides the counterpoint. Spain produces more university graduates than the European average (40% vs. 34%), but these students graduate to dismal economic conditions. With 56% of Spanish youth unemployed, more than one million of these graduates are without jobs. In such an environment of austerity and precarity, the major choice facing degree-holders is to endure prolonged unemployment at home or to move abroad.

Spain is not experiencing the only austerity-induced "brain drain" in Europe—consider the flight of educated Latvians several years ago or the ongoing pressures on young educated Greeks—but the current departure of highly educated Spaniards is dramatic in both volume and the qualifications they hold. Though this can be to the gain of countries like Germany, which is actively recruiting Spanish professionals for their workforce, it is to the lasting detriment of Spain.

Dr. Raul Alelu is a biochemist researching schizophrenia in a laboratory in Spain; however, since June 2012 he has been doing so without pay, as government cuts ended funding for his project. He is considering moving abroad at the first opportunity. A Spanish astrophysicist, Dr. Amaya Moro-Martin is already planning on relocating to the United States for lack of a promised permanent position following a fellowship. Prof. Antonio Cabrales of Carlos III University in Madrid is on his way to teach in London, following long-term complaints about the system compounded with a recent 20% pay cut.

Some, like Prof. Cabrales, argue that deeper administrative problems—like budgeting too much for facilities and not managing staff and faculty properly—haunt the Spanish educational and research sectors. Regardless, the deep cuts to research, faculty and personnel budgets mean that any reforms will happen to hollow institutions missing their most senior and qualified staff.

In some localities, Spain's libraries are being revived through community action, but Spain's educational and research institutions will need funding, not austerity, in order to provide the nation with economy-boosting jobs from its large cohort of young educated professionals. To act otherwise would be to admit that a generation has been failed by the state that educated it and left with no option but to flee abroad.