2019 Ready: Nicole McLaren Campbell

Sunday, December 30, 2018

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What's the benefit of an overseas education?

When it comes to discussing overseas education for our students, many point to the dangers of 'brain drain' – the departure of highly trained or qualified people from a particular country. In this case, we speak of the departure of talent – high school graduates at a minimum, who leave Jamaica in order to obtain further education and training overseas. Where these individuals do not return it is argued that Jamaica loses.

Personal Experience

I started AIM because of the pivotal role that an overseas education played in my own life. I wanted more young people to access the opportunities that I have had, and then build Jamaica. One of the first things we do with our students is help them to identify how their interests and skills now can build their schools, communities and Jamaica on a whole. Once young people see themselves as change-makers, they are more likely to continue to see themselves that way, and it is our hope that their sense of connectivity to Jamaica, and the possibilities that their education will awaken, will motivate them to return.

Why Study Abroad?

Although AIM is a young company (we turn nine next year), we are old enough to see many of our students returning and we have been privileged to help them on their job hunts and applications for further study.

Several of them have landed positions in local corporations and have begun climbing the veritable corporate ladder – Alanah Jones is a case in point. She returned in 2015, having studied Business and Finance at Bentley University and is now the Chief Operating Officer at SSL Venture Capital Jamaica Limited. In her own words, “Studying overseas was one of the best decisions I have ever made. The sheer competitiveness of university in the States forced me to constantly challenge myself and push harder to get ahead. This directly impacted my attitude towards my work when I decided to live and work in Jamaica. I returned to Jamaica confident in my capabilities and had to apply the same attitude that I had to constantly challenge myself if I wanted to succeed. I see a lot of Jamaicans suffer for a lackadaisical attitude toward their work and I rejected that mentality simply because I was not accustomed to cruising by after running an academic marathon for the previous four years of my life. Living and studying in a first world country has a way of humbling you and making you understand that nothing is handed to you and you have to find new ways to stand out because being smart is not enough. With this mindset, I have put in the work and reaped the rewards, which also benefits my employer, and ultimately the country.”

Many parents who run thriving family businesses in Jamaica send their children overseas to university with the stated intent of them being able to contribute in more meaningful ways to the growth of the business, and indirectly (or directly depending on the business) to Jamaica's development. By more meaningful I mean broadened perspective and exposure to greater innovation which can change the way someone's brain works, change their perspective and empower them to function in more beneficial ways.

It is true, that the benefits one reaps from studying overseas depend on the institution and the extent to which students go prepared to reap. As with anything in life you get what you put in. I push our students to actively explore opportunities and overcome their fears, to fight homesickness and the urge to Facetime old friends in order to make new connections and experiences. There is much our high schools can do to foster this mindset which serves all students whether they study overseas or not.

Mitigating Brain Drain

Many scholarships associated with overseas study come with a stipulation that the student must return to Jamaica within a given period of time after completing study. It is important that for certain fields, conditions allow the student to garner work experience overseas before returning to Jamaica.

Thanks to the power of social media, young graduates are realising that their lives and careers don't have to be “one thing”, for example, many are starting online-based businesses which empower them to earn multiple sources of income so that they can work globally, earning what they might earn had they remained overseas, yet live locally.

Global Trends

International student mobility is on the rise globally – that is a fact. UNESCO reports that the number of international students rose from 2.8 million to 4.7 million between 2005 and 2015.

Whether we agree or not that students studying abroad benefit our country, the fact still remains that more and more students are studying overseas and we can benefit. Beyond our students coming back to serve in civic organisations, the Government, to start and grow businesses, our economy and local tertiary institutions can benefit by focusing not on those who leave, but on those who can come. Capitalising on the trend to attract more international students to study in Jamaica is a major opportunity for growth. The Caribbean Maritime Institute, by offering internationally accredited and accepted qualifications and certifications has positioned itself to attract a bevy of international students – and their strategy is working. Many international students study at UWI's Medical School – but as an industry the tertiary sector is just skimming the surface. Our competitive advantages include language (English as our first language) and cost – the cost of a tertiary education in Jamaica is less expensive for international students than it is in many developed countries and English is our language of instruction (a barrier to entry for many students who seek to study in Europe where education costs are lower). As a recipient country we stand to benefit from increased cultural enrichment and from the stimulus to our economy. Student spending has tremendous potential - from housing and consumer-type expenditure to tourist-type activities – the direct and indirect multiplier effects are vast in many countries. For example, according to the Canadian Government “international students contributed between $10.5 billion and $12.8 billion to Canada's GDP in 2015 and 2016” which translated to “140,010 jobs (the equivalent of 118,640 FTE) supported by the Canadian economy in 2015. The comparable value in 2016 was 168,860 jobs (or 143,100 FTE) supported”.

As we look ahead we must consider the impact and future of online learning and international joint-degree programmes which offer some advantages to us in terms of retaining our talent and their economic multipliers while affording exposure and training. Our local institutions must consider these options to inform their own growth and viability. As a country we must consider the opportunity inherent in the trend of foreign campuses, that is, (mostly) US-based universities who have campuses overseas – Yale University has a campus in Singapore while New York University has a campus in Abu Dhabi. Why not us, Jamaica?

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