Brain drain refers to the emigration of highly skilled individuals mostly from a less developed (home) to a developed country (destination) thereby reducing the capacity of the home country to generate welfare for its population. In the literature there is much written about this phenomenon, but there is a new theory, entitled brain gain. This theory suggests that the prospect of emigrating and earning higher income when being highly educated encourages the remaining residents of the home country to obtain higher education (so that they can emigrate later as well). Obviously not all highly educated individuals emigrate, and hence the home country ends up with a higher number of highly educated individuals than in the absence of emigration prospects.

In the first part of this dissertation the brain gain theory is tested on Suriname. Yearly data on how many people emigrate, the number of enrolled students at primary, secondary and tertiary education level, and the number of university graduates were collected. Alas, emigration was found to have a negative effect on the number of enrolled students at secondary and tertiary education level and on the number of university graduates. This implies that as emigration increases, the number of highly educated individuals in Suriname decreases. Hence Suriname is a case of brain drain and not brain gain. To reduce brain drain we first need to know: 1) how big is the problem (in other words, what percentage of the highly educated emigrates), 2) what causes brain drain, and 3) what determines the return of the high skilled migrants to the home country.

In the second part of this dissertation a survey was carried out to assess the brain drain problem of Suriname and to identify its determinants. This study was based on a survey that Gibson and McKenzie (2011) carried out regarding skilled migration from three Pacific countries. In order to know what percentage of highly educated individuals emigrate, we would need a list with the names of the highly educated individuals. The next step would be to trace back which individuals from the list emigrated. An almost impossible task, especially when tracing individuals who graduated way back in time. Best graduates or top students from high schools are easier to trace back, as these individuals have great potential to breakthrough in life. Generally they complete university or other higher education and ultimately standout. Therefore names of top students who graduated from the high schools of Suriname between 1976 and 2006 were collected and ‘googled’. Since 1976 a variety of studies in medical, technological, and social sciences are offered at the Anton de Kom University of Suriname. Students who passed the high school could since then choose the University of Suriname or tertiary education abroad. Because of the strong historical bond Suriname has with the Netherlands, which reflects in the language, cultural aspects, and the legal system of Suriname, and above all in the large migration flows between the two countries, this study was confined to former top students from Surinamese high schools who currently reside in either of the two countries. The focus was also on individuals with a job, and hence the year 2006 was chosen as the final year of the time frame. Individuals who graduated until 2006 must already be in employment at the time they received the invitation to participate in the survey (in 2013).

The survey results show that 63% of the 283 respondents migrated to the Netherlands of which a third returned to Suriname. Hence 42% of the former top students from Suriname stay in the Netherlands; a rather high brain drain rate. The main reason to emigrate was to attain higher education (84% of the respondents mentioned this). For others the main reason was: the political situation in the 1980s, travelling along with the family or with the life partner, or seeking employment. Most of the former top students emigrated in their 20s; the age to attend the university. This implies that top students have little confidence in the tertiary education offered in Suriname. Former top students who chose pure science courses in high school exhibit a higher probability to emigrate. The survey also revealed that compared with non-migrants, emigrants are higher educated and have higher income (on average 115% higher income). Financial means are necessary in order to emigrate. The survey results indicate that former students from a higher income class and who have/had at least one highly educated parent are more likely to emigrate. The education level of the parents however does not have a significant effect on permanent emigration. Another important determinant of emigration is the location where the parents and most of the family reside. The research also shows that individuals who were raised in the capital city of Suriname (Paramaribo) have a higher probability to emigrate compared with individuals who were raised in the districts. Female former top students have lower probability to permanently emigrate than the males. Presumably, women feel more socially attached to the home country than men. In the third part of the dissertation the determinants of return migration are examined. The main reason to return to Suriname is patriotism or the desire to contribute to the development of the home country. Also the feeling of being “free” (mainly due to the tropical climate) and being close to family members are important reasons to return. The survey research furthermore reveals that the higher the educational degree of the former top student the lower the probability to return. The same applies to individuals who have a highly educated life partner. Furthermore former top students who hold the Dutch citizenship and have lived for a long period of time in the Netherlands are less inclined to return. Scholarships are proven to be effective. Former top students whose tertiary education was financed through a scholarship exhibit a higher probability to return. And former top students whose tertiary education was funded by the parents instead of by the students’ own means (or via a study loan) have stronger ties with Suriname and a higher probability to return.

Former top students whose parents enjoyed tertiary education abroad are also more likely to return. University education was not available in Suriname in the past. Parents who obtained tertiary education usually did so via a scholarship to the Netherlands and many returned upon completing the studies. The children possibly follow the footsteps of their parents. Furthermore the survey results indicate that the probability to return is higher among skilled migrants whose parents, children, and life partner live in Suriname. Also the effect of job tasks was analysed. Especially individuals who perform management tasks at work and are in touch with clients exhibit a higher likelihood to return (one might think of consultants and business managers). Performing tasks that require mathematical solutions or tasks related to contact with patients or students have no significant effect on return migration. The most important recommendations to make Suriname attractive for the highly skilled migrants are: providing suitable jobs (in a professional environment) and corresponding wages, investments in the quality of higher education, and recommendations related to the macro-economic and political stability in Suriname. Skilled migrants are also concerned with safety and security, and the opportunity to own a piece of land or a house in the home country. However effectuating these recommendations might be very complex. After all, the country would first need sufficient skilled manpower to create strong institutions. Several countries in Asia (especially South Korea) offer high skilled expatriates privileges to work in the home country. These countries were hence able to attract the highly skilled in order to achieve technological progress and economic growth.

In the fourth part of this dissertation the question whether high skilled migrants of Surinamese origin would be willing to return if they were offered certain incentives is addressed. A survey was held among 209 highly educated migrants, who at least completed high school education in Suriname and who currently reside in the Netherlands. A quarter of the emigrants would definitely return if they were offered a luxurious house in Paramaribo (or in a neighbouring district), a piece of land, education subsidies for their children, and parental care. Some respondents are willing to accept this offer but are not yet certain. If we would add up the latter group of the respondents with the respondents who are definitely willing to accept the offer, then we can conclude that the majority of the skilled migrants are positive towards the earlier mentioned offer. Especially individuals who arrived shortly (between 1-5 years) in the Netherlands, engineers, and individuals who have an affinity with Suriname are interested in the offer. If the government would provide funds for research and innovation, then health professionals would also be interested to return. It is essential however that returnees are allowed to exercise their profession freely in the home country. The probability to accept the offers decreases as the migrants reside longer in the Netherlands. If the government of Suriname would decide to incorporate the set of measures to recruit the highly skilled expatriates, then information sessions could at best be held among Surinamese students at Dutch universities. Also diaspora seminars would be a useful platform especially as individuals who have an affinity with the home country would be willing to accept the offer. Eliminating political interference in profession would even attract the majority of the skilled emigrants to return to Suriname