The 'Brain Drain' and Beyond

Venezuelan university professor Jessica Dos Santos reflects on increasing youth emigration in Venezuela, contextualizing the phenomenon in a refreshing counterpoint to the alarmist mainstream media narrative. 


Emigration by young people, particularly recent college graduates, is an increasing problem in Venezuela since the onset of the economic crisis
Emigration by young people, particularly recent college graduates, is an increasing problem in Venezuela since the onset of the economic crisis. (15yultimo)
By Jessica Dos Santos Jardim – 15yUltimo
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A few weeks ago, we began a new trimester in the university.

I, as the annoying professor that I am, always ask my students to tell me: why are you here? The question basically is looking to see what motivates them to immerse themselves in this fascinating but thankless experience, and in particular, why choose to write in a world where audiovisual media are ravaging other forms of expression.

However, this time, the context made my questioning be interpreted in a different way:

"Well, professor, if I’m honest, I am here because I have nearly finished (my course), but the truth is that if I were to resell a few kilos of flour I would be better off," replied a boy staring endlessly at his notebook and with a pen that was doing acrobatic turns between his hands.

I still can’t describe what it was exactly that I felt at that moment.

For a brief moment I thought: "I also don’t know what the hell I’m doing here.”

What I’m talking about is this: I get paid 1400 bolivars per academic hour I teach, an amount that doesn’t even cover my transport to university. Whatsmore, I don’t get paid for the amount of time that I dedicate to preparing my classes and thoroughly reviewing each of the assessments.

I don’t care that ministers insist that the quality of life of educators has been improved because, despite all efforts, apparently, being a teacher will mean never achieving a dignified life. And, in addition, the economic crisis has devastated what quality of life we had.

In this system, people, even those most in love with their craft, work for money, and the romantic "I do it because I love to do it" has become impossible. I know plenty of people who have changed their passions, that thing that makes them vibrate, for that which simply allows them to survive (be it "good" or "bad").

But, at the same time, I prefer to forget about being me, and try to put myself in their shoes: what motivation does a young person have today to withstand five years of university?

No, don’t look at me like that.

Yes, I do believe deeply in the need to educate ourselves to be free. In fact, I believe in it much more than in academia, which, if we are going to be blunt, has been transformed into a simple machine for manufacturing employees that are useful to the prevailing model.

But, getting back to our point: “public” transport is a mess and in the university campuses (dare I say all of them) the buses aren’t working and in the "best" case scenarios, private buses are rented out at excessive costs and in very poor conditions; cafeterias (where they exist) are poorly attended or working at half capacity; to photocopy a couple of papers implies leaving most of your scholarship and intern pay, or minimum wage, at the copy shop; some students have children or need to help out their elderly family members; and the time that could be devoted to sorting such (economic) problems out is dedicated to sitting and listening to professors who often are frustrated or do not possess the necessary words or arguments strong enough to tell you “hey, don't go”.

Don't go? Yes, don’t immigrate, because today many of these young people are (in my class) with a single objective: finish the course and leave the country with a degree. At the university where I work dozens of courses have been closed, dozens of professors have left, an equal number of students have deserted, and most of my students leave just days after their thesis defenses.

I know that migration is as old as mankind, and if it weren’t for it, I, for example, would not have been born in these lands. But also, for the same reason, I know that there is nothing worse than not feeling completely neither here nor there.

My parents aren’t Venezuelans, they never wanted to nationalize, they haven’t even registered in the electoral registry, there are still things in the Caribbean that they don’t understand, and upon returning to their country they don’t find their real selves there either.

I am unaware if what is happening today is called "brain drain" or is there a less divisive term for it.

Once, in November 2014, I myself wrote that Venezuelan migration was different from the rest of the region because, according to the data we had at the time, it was young people (between 18 and 35 years), professionals (36% graduates, 46% with Master's degrees, 12% with doctorates, etc.), social groups A and B, holders of capital whose contribution to the GDP of the state is the largest. However, today, the scene seems to have expanded a great deal more. The people who are leaving are not only those conceited youths that become viral on social networks.

I don't know if there is "a massive exodus", a "diaspora", if there are three million as some – the opposition – viciously says, or if it is merely “an invention from the media thank tanks" as the president says, but, to a greater or lesser extent, it’s happening. To talk about it, quantify it, and take care of it should be a state issue and an economic issue, because many of those young people are educated in our (free) high schools, public universities, etc., are part of our social investment, and are today transformed into the cheap labor of other nations or into legalized titles exploited by others, and we have to do something, not only with those who have left, but those who stay.

What if, instead of criticizing those who have left, we look at their reasons to see if, maybe, they are more or less valid. What if we act, instead of merely reading about the Colombian police (security forces of the state that steals our gasoline, our cash, food, etc.) who throw bombs at a few Venezuelans in Cucuta (who may or not share our ideology), and at the same time attend to those who are here and also have a brain and latent concerns?

To stay, to continue studying, working, being honest, working hard, loving, smiling, despite the power outages, despite having teargas thrown at one on the subway, despite the cuts in the water supply, despite price hikes and hikes and hikes, despite the fact that making a family is getting more and more difficult, deserves, at the very least, that someone tells you: sister/brother, you are hardcore, and much, much more, when you're young.

Almost a million youths have joined the youth work Plan Chamba Juvenil*, which is a clear example, a warning sign.

Let’s stop the bickering and get down to business. I think we must all do what is in our power to regain our capacity to believe in tomorrow.

*Translator’s note: Plan Chamba Juvenil is a social program dedicated to youth with the objectives of giving them workplace-based training and work experience. According to the government, 850,000 youths are registered in the program nationwide.

Translated and edited by Paul Dobson for