Belfast Telegraph

Saturday 23 August 2014

The Young: The path to peace is pot-holed by our deepening brain drain

The Peace Gate on the peace line in Alexandra Park in north Belfast. Pic David Fitzgerald

Fears have been voiced that a 'brain drain' of Northern Ireland will deepen without urgent Government action to ensure young people remain here.

Calls have been made for moves to address the growing problem after shock research revealed that 67% of young people don't believe their future is in Northern Ireland.

Warnings have been sounded that a combination of a lack of hope over a future career here, together with uninspiring political role models, have contributed to the view that a better quality of life lies elsewhere.

Baroness May Blood MBE, a campaign chair of the Integrated Education Fund, says the departure of young academics to other countries has left a vacuum of role models for the next generation to aspire to.

The Lucid Talk Research carried out for the Belfast Telegraph is the latest 'red flag' pointing out the aspirations of young people to emigrate and not return.

In August 2013 it emerged that just one in three of our graduates were coming home. Of 2,470 students who went to England, Scotland or Wales to study, 1,550 did not return in 2011/12 – slightly under two-thirds of those who went away. And just over 900 of the graduates who went away to study during the same period came back to work.

The figures highlighted a steady decline in the number of graduates who are returning to work and live in Northern Ireland – 1% less than in 2010/11 and 3% less than two years previously. The problem of a 'brain drain' among young doctors has also been evident within the health service in Northern Ireland. Many doctors who are trained in Northern Ireland begin careers here but later choose to emigrate.

Countries such as Australia have proved to be popular destination choices.

Almost 84% of the students who graduated from Queen's University School of Medicine in Belfast in 2012 chose to begin their careers in Northern Ireland. And 12% of them opted for employment in Britain while almost 2% secured jobs in the Republic.

However, evidence has proved that within several years after graduation, many leave.

NI chairman, Dr Paul Darragh, previously spoke of the importance of stemming the brain drain.

"Some of those young people reluctantly leave but conditions here are just too tough," he said.

Baroness Blood, who formerly worked for the Greater Shankill Partnership, is not surprised with the poll's findings. "I do a lot of work in London with young people, both Catholics and Protestants, and they have no intention of coming back," she said.

"They just don't see Northern Ireland yet as a place where they would want to come back and work.

"What really amazes me is that young people view the Troubles as history, to me it's just like yesterday, but until our politicians get into that mode and start talking about things like getting a good education, getting a job, attracting inward investment, we just won't hold on to our young people who don't do well in the education system.

"The problem with this is those young people who have gone through the education system and do relatively well, have moved on.

"That leaves those behind them with no real role models and that is part of the problem that we see, particularly with regards to under-achievement in education."

Baroness Blood added: "When you watch the television at night and see our First and Deputy First Ministers, can you really blame them?

"There are no new politics here. When we get to the stage where our young people won't vote as there are no political parties to represent their views, then we are in real trouble."

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