University Post
University of Copenhagen
Independent of management


In Greece, Spain, and Italy, best and brightest consider leaving – for good

As the Southern Europe is hammered by the economic crisis, the fear is that the most talented sons and daughters will leave. No regrets

Students and graduates from recession-struck Greece, Spain, Italy and Portugal should logically try to get jobs in the north of Europe or even further afield like in the US, where there are better jobs with better salaries.

And if you believe the testimony from potential, present and former international students from these countries, this is exactly what they intend to do.

Take Mina Sidiropoulou of Athens, Greece for example. A Bachelor in business administration, she accidently contacted the University Post while researching information on a University of Copenhagen full-degree study programme.

»To have a future at all, I really need to go abroad,« she says. »The feeling here, is that it is a dead end.«

After an Erasmus exchange and a job in Spain, Mina was lucky to get a EUR 660 a month job in the imports office of a pharmaceutical company. But this is no longer enough for her ambition.

»I love my country, but I feel that I would serve it best by showing what a Greek person can do – abroad,« she says.

Overwhelming anecdotal evidence from Greek and Spanish students in Copenhagen shows that many are doing everything to avoid going back home. And the perception in these countries is that those that are highly qualified have either left, or are planning to leave.

It is called ‘brain drain’, and Amanda Calahorra, an English-studies graduate from the University of Copenhagen is a good example of it. Her stay here in Copenhagen turned out to be her lucky break. She now works in a Copenhagen kindergarten.

»We are all escaping, and I don’t mean just Spanish people, but Europeans in general. If we can’t find a job in our country and make a living there, we need to find it somewhere else«, says Amanda.

Conditions better abroad

So far, according to the European Centre for the Development of Vocational Training (Cedefop) the brains draining from one EU member state to another as a direct result of the recession, are not having a large effect on ‘sending’ and ‘host’ countries’ jobs statistics. Not even in Greece, the epicentre of yet another financial tremor in Europe, and now enduring its fifth year of year-on-year recession, according to Konstantinos Pouliakas, an economist at Cedefop.

»Some economists would argue that unemployed labour should go the places where there are openings for these skills. But if all the highly-skilled leave a country this will undermine a country’s growth. However, up until now, there has been no indication that there has been a brain drain of a significant magnitude in any of the member states, including Greece,« he says.

For Greece specifically, »it is not yet clear what has been the real impact of the recession on the numbers of young graduates leaving the country. The very bad economic situation is somewhat counterbalanced by the fact that Greeks love their country, want to help their country in the crisis, and have family and housing networks that mean they are less susceptible to the urge to move,« he says.

This said, Greeks have also historically, before the present financial calamity, gone abroad due to the lack of good opportunities for young people back home, for example on exchange to places like Copenhagen, explains Konstantinos Pouliakis.

»The salary, the working conditions were much better abroad even before the recession. Now, the Greek crisis works as a deterrent for anyone [who has left, ed.] but wants to come back. Data from a study before the crisis has shown that less than one in five Greek university graduates who has worked abroad decided to return back home. Even if there was one out of every five working abroad that returned to Greece before the recession, this one person will not return now,« says Konstantinos Pouliakas.

Parents understand

Leaving your country in the lurch at a time of crisis could be considered a mild form of treachery.

But according to student expatriates that the University Post talked to, family and friends at home in southern European countries seem to understand.

Leire Oyanguren, a 21 year-old University of Copenhagen student from Irun in the Basque region of Spain, is representative of a group of students that is already studying abroad and who intends to make it stay that way.

»I am lucky compared to many people in the Basque country,« she says. »I will keep studying abroad, and find a job. I will probably move to France, because I speak French, because it is not as expensive as in Denmark, and because I have more opportunities there.«

When first quizzed by the University Post on what she thought her parents thought about her plans to stay abroad, she promised to ask them. When the University Post talked to her again, she had had a longer conversation with her mother on Skype.

»I told her about our talk. This is what she told me: ‘Leire, when I talk about you – and many other sons and daughters that are abroad – with my friends, they all say ‘let her go, there’s nothing to do here!’,« she says. »I guess my parents’ generation would have done the same if they were in our situation,« Leire adds.

»The reality is that we have more opportunities on the outside,« says Leire. »We can always come back for holidays.«

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