British expats in Abu Dhabi have rubbished gloomy appraisals of the so-called ‘brain drain’ from the UK by championing the positive motives of the bulk of migrants.

By Tim Newbold (Staff Reporter)

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Published: Fri 4 Nov 2005, 2:30 PM

Last updated: Thu 2 Apr 2015, 6:22 PM

In typical fashion, the British media have greeted the news that more graduates have left the country than any other in the world with a frenzy of debate.

A recent World Bank report shows that, in absolute terms, the UK is the world leader when it comes to losing educated workers to mainly warmer climes. One in six of those who go through university end up jumping ship, with a total of 1.4 million now working abroad. This does not, however, mean Britain is the country with the worst rate of emigration of skilled workers. That title belongs to a much poorer place, Guyana. Though the vast majority have plumped for the US, Canada and Australia, around 100,000 British expatriates are living in the UAE, with an estimated 10,000 in Abu Dhabi.

Many reasons for the haemorrhage have been bandied around — the soaring cost of living, not least of which includes a gigantic rise in house rents over the last decade, the immense pressure on the country’s transport infrastructure, disillusionment with the perceived failings of the education system, and, of course, that historic British obsession, the weather. Educated Britons are also armed with a range of weapons enabling them to uproot with relative ease. Internationally-recognised qualifications and money are just two of these, and prove a potent force when allied to an ever-burgeoning appetite for travel.

Martin O’Neill, British Vice-Consul and based in Abu Dhabi, believes that many expats eventually return home better for the change: “I think it’s healthy for British people to experience life overseas and don’t think there is any real danger of a brain drain. Many of these people will return to the UK enriched with their experiences of a different culture and better equipped to contribute to life in a modern UK.”

Another Briton, Steven Anderson, says he was enticed to the capital by a host of attractions: “I bid for Abu Dhabi as it’s an interesting and rapidly developing city. The quality of life is tip top, customer service is first class, and the weather for most of the year is excellent. It’s an ideal place for kids and, overall, it’s a safe and comfortable environment to work and live in.”

Echoing the sentiment, O’Neill adds that, increasingly unlike other cities across the globe, Abu Dhabi still holds a distinct appeal: “I’ve only been in the UAE for 17 months, but can appreciate why some expats have made their home here. When the opportunity arose for me to work here, I jumped at the chance of living in the region while it still has some of its own unique character intact. Too many cities around the world are rapidly losing their sense of identity in the pursuit of globalisation.”

To try to offset the loss of graduates and fill the gaps left particularly by departing doctors, scientists and bankers, a swathe of immigrants has been allowed onto UK shores, many coming from Eastern Europe. In fact, the net brain drain from the UK is reportedly around 200,000 people, largely balancing out the stampede to other parts of the West. Anderson picks up on the point: “I’m not particularly worried about the brain drain effect, particularly as it works both ways, and the UK is attracting a number of well-qualified individuals, which is why multi-cultural Britain has a buoyant and robust economy.”

Robert Schwarz, Group Business Development Manager at Al Masaood and Chairman of the British Business Group in Abu Dhabi, places the accent firmly on the positive reasons for choosing the city: “I came out here 28 years ago to have a look, initially for a year or two. What made me stay was a distinct entrepreneurial spirit and a cultural value system in which I wanted to bring up my family. I met my wife here, who now runs her own management consultancy business, and our two children were born in Abu Dhabi. It also helps that the climate is good and the people are extremely welcoming and friendly.”

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