Over 350,000 Greeks, or 3% of the population left the country between 2010 and 2013, according to official data. Almost 270,000 of them were young people aged between 20 and 39. Those who leave often have one thing in common. They are highly skilled — doctors, academics, entrepreneurs.
It’s so bad for Greece that The New York Times called it “the worst brain drain in modern history” in a July 1, 2015 story.
It adds insult to injury that the loss of so many young, talented Greeks is Germany’s gain more than any other country’s— the country which many in Greece blame for the tough austerity measures it has been suffering under in recent years.
The brain drain is painful and expensive to Greece. University education is free in Greece, so those who leave after graduating take that investment with them. The countries where they find work ultimately benefit from their employment, productivity and their taxes.
Those who have enjoyed a Greek education and then chose to work abroad are not innovating at home. With so many talented professionals leaving or already gone, it will become more challenging for Greece to pull itself out of its depression.
“It is a huge loss of human capital whose affects will only begin to be felt in the next decade,” said Aliki Mouri a sociologist at the National Centre for Social Research. “People who have been educated at great cost, both to their families and the public purse, are now working in wealthier countries which have not invested in them at all,” she added.
It is estimated that more than half of those who have left have gone to Germany and the UK. Migration outflows have risen 300% on pre-crisis levels.
Some 35,000 Greek doctors – the biggest foreign group of its kind – have emigrated to Germany, according to German statistics cited in media reports.
Ironically, Greece actually possesses a surplus of medical professionals and has more neurosurgeons than even Germany, the largest country in Europe by population. This fact highlights an important, yet tragic, facet of the Greek Brain Drain; Greece possesses a disproportionally large number of high achieving and highly educated people, many of whom have already left.
Three percent of the world’s most prominent scientists hail from Greece. While that figure may seem measly, Greece’s population represents only .2 percent of the global population. Despite all of Greece’s scientific heft, 85% of these globally recognized scientists conduct their research and reside outside of their home country.
The brain drain is also affecting education in a drastic way.
More and more Greeks are moving to foreign countries to complete their university studies in the hope of improving their chances in the job market abroad. As they graduate, most end up staying.
Thousands of Greeks are already studying abroad. According to the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), over 50,000 Greek students are enrolled at overseas universities — the largest foreign student population among all the OECD’s member-states proportional to population and the sixth largest in absolute numbers.
In Germany alone, between 2012 and 2013, the number of Greek students rose by 13 percent. In 2012, Germany’s Federal Statistical Office totaled almost 6,000 Greek students, of which more than 1,100 had directly begun their studies in Germany.
One high profile story that burst onto the Greek and German media scene was that of Alexia Papaioannou in 2013, Greece’s top high school graduate who scored near perfect scores on university entrance exams and could have selected to study at any Greek university.
Alexia chose to leave for Germany instead.
“Greece’s top ranking student is emigrating to Germany” was the headline in Proto Thema, while Kathimerini wrote “First-Rate Student Migrates,” adding that her decision “leaves a bitter taste.”