“Staying in 2011 is not the same as staying in 1920 or in 1950. To leave does not mean exile, that I go and do not turn back or that I listen to Kazantzidi and I cry.” — Apostolos Doxiadis speaking at Intelligence Squared Greece’s debate on Greece’s “Brain Drain”

About 114,000 to 139,000 Greeks with a tertiary education work or study abroad—and 91 percent of those who received all of their degrees abroad do not seek employment in Greece upon graduation, according to a study by Lois Lambrianidis, author of Investing in Leaving.

Intelligence Squared Brain Drain

Intelligence Squared Greece’s “Brain Drain” debate focused on answering the question of whether Greek youth should stay in Greece and invest in the inevitable changes, or if they should travel abroad to seek opportunities elsewhere.

The issue of brain drain among youth and professionals in Greece was the focus of a six-panelist debate held Wednesday evening at the Hellenic Cosmos Culture Center. The debate, titled I am leaving: The dilemma of a generation, was sponsored by Intelligence Squared Greece, a non-profit organization that hosts debates as a platform to express social, political and economic problems.

Before the debate began, Lambrianidis spoke about the differences in income, opportunity, work preferences and overall success between individuals who studied or lived abroad and those who did not. According to his 9-month study in 2009-2010, even among Greeks who received all their degrees in Greece, nearly half sought employment elsewhere. He also emphasized the importance of advancements in technology and communication that improve the ability for people to seek employment abroad.

Intelligence Squared’s Debate on Greece’s “brain drain”

“The capacity to seek employment in other countries through the internet can allow even members of small provincial cities in Greece to have enormous opportunities to apply for employment abroad with no cost,” Lambrianidis said.

While making the decision to stay or leave, either for studies or work, has been an issue in Greece for many decades, the recent crisis has made it especially acute for the youth as Greece undergoes many political and economic changes, Lambrianidis said. Unemployment among Greeks between 15-24 is currently 35.6 percent, and between the ages of 25-30 it is 17.9 percent, according to CNN Money. The debate focused on answering the question of whether Greek youth should stay in Greece and invest in the inevitable changes, or if they should travel abroad to seek opportunities elsewhere. The public’s interest on the issue was evident from the audience turn out, as the theater was filled with more than 400 people of all age groups attending.

Proponents for leaving Greece highlighted several benefits on an individual level, like income and opportunities that students and professionals gain while abroad. Stathis Kalyvas, political science professor and director of the Order Conflict and Violence program at Yale University, said that in an increasingly globalized world, students with skills and the capability to achieve their goals should not be forced to stay in a country where their talents will not be used.

“We do not find the solution to brain drain with a wish list, either a wish list for the common good or a wish list for new models of development,” Kalyvas said. “The only solution is for parallels to exist between personal incentives and the collective scope.”

Those who defended the need to leave Greece also mentioned the possibility of benefiting Greece as a whole by creating, for example, a network overseas to foster opportunities between those abroad and those at home. Christos Papadimitriou, Lester Hogan Professor of EECS at the University of California Berkeley, gave the example of China, which drained more Chinese youth and academics than any other country and has created a network, or “massive Chinese octopus” that serves to promote development and growth in China. For Papadimitriou, once the crisis is over there will be opportunities for young adults to come back and benefit Greece, like the academics that eventually returned to China.

Grigoris Farmakis, managing consultant at Agilis S.A., also spoke in favor of leaving, and said that in viewing the situation as a loss of educated students and adults, we may be loosing the chance to make this drain into a gain for Greece.

“Every person who works outside our borders, or establishes a business there, or sets up a laboratory at a university is yet another small chance for yet another new method of cooperation,” Farmakis said. “A chance to cooperate with a business here, the chance to cooperate with a laboratory here, or the chance to promote an idea that would have been lost here.”

Conversely, advocates for staying in Greece stressed the opportunities for development and the need to maintain a sense of community and help rebuild Greece from within by pursuing employment in different sectors of the economy.

“In Greece, the basic problem is not that there aren’t prospects for employment, it is rather the deviation between the personal preferences for careers and the opportunities available in the economy, or in the needs the community has,” said Aristos Doxiadis, private equity professional and angel investor based in Athens.

He argued that employment opportunities exist for young adults, just not in the prestigious office jobs that most students pursue. For example, he said, there are ample opportunities for young adults to work in shipping, manufacturing, new forms of tourism and small export-oriented businesses associated with niche agricultural goods.

Kyriakos Pierrakakis, recent past president of the Institute for Youth, also supported staying in Greece and highlighted the fact that students with college degrees and tertiary education still have a hard time finding employment within their major in other countries as well. Even in the United States, 43 percent of graduates do not find jobs in their respective field.

Despite the challenges in Greece, however, opportunities still exist, he said.

“The future of this country will be determined by those who will risk investing in Greece,” Pierrakakis said.

The event also incorporated an audience poll, which asked attendees to vote for which side they supported before and after the debate. Before the panel presented its respective case, 43 percent supported leaving Greece, 39 percent opposed it and 18 percent did not know. Once the debate was over, 41 percent still supported leaving Greece, 56 percent support staying and only 3 percent were undecided.

While the panelists had a range of views and experiences, even within their designated preference on the issue of brain drain, it was clear that both sides acknowledged the challenges young adults face and the need for constructive reform in Greece. The panelists also demonstrated that the dilemma of leaving or staying is not always an absolute choice. In reality no one really leaves when they travel or work abroad, Kalyvas said. Likewise, Apostolos Doxiadis, author of Logicomix, explained that the process of leaving does not entail complete separation from Greece and the issues surrounding one’s decision are relative to the era in which they live.

“Staying in 2011 is not the same as staying in 1920 or in 1950,” Doxiadis said. “To leave does not mean exile, that I go and do not turn back or that I listen to Kazantzidi and I cry.”

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by Vasiliki Mitrakos — Athens, July 11, 2011

A special thanks to Intelligence Squared Greece for inviting Reinventing Greece to the debate. To view the full debate in Greek click here.

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