Feature - Reversing brain drain: grid computing does some innovative plumbing
"Before, if we funded researchers to work in laboratories abroad, we could not be sure if they would come back," says Maiouf Behamel, director of Algeria's Centre for the Development of Renewable Energies. "We hope that this project will set an example that others can follow."
The project Behamel speaks of is the creation of a virtual organization: a network of Algerian researchers-living all over the world-who will collaborate with and provide doctorate-level teaching to fellow students and scientists, making it possible for those who stay in Algeria to benefit from the expertise of those who leave, and providing the cyberinfrastructure to support and connect them to the rest of the global community.
CDRE's new network is the result of a modern melding of public and private sectors: a partnership between IT giant Hewlett Packard and UNESCO-the United Nations' Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization-aiming to turn Africa's brain drain into brain gain.
Working from home
The loss of trained and talented people is a literal drain on the resources of many countries, making sustainable national development an ongoing challenge. Particularly hard hit are African countries, where salaries, living conditions and standards of education often compare poorly with more developed nations.
Every year African countries spend an estimated US$4 billion employing non-African expatriates to replace highly qualified Africans who have emigrated.
HP's Arnaud Pierson says a major goal for the HP-UNESCO project is the reconnection of African universities with their international alumni, capitalizing on the training and talent of Africans at home and abroad by using grids and information technology.
"We're using grid computing to form virtual environments in which users can work collaboratively with international colleagues and university resources," Pierson explains. "This also enables universities to identify international partnerships and funding opportunities."
From South-East Europe to Africa
The project follows fresh from the success of a similar HP-UNESCO venture in South-East Europe, where Pierson says some university faculties lost up to 70 percent of teaching and research jobs during the Balkans conflict.
"We're working with universities in Croatia, Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Macedonia, Montenegro and Serbia, and each university has had its own success stories," he says. "Universities have been able to arrange numerous exchange visits, regular guest lectures and research partnerships. Young engineers have decided to stay in their country to set up experiments using grid computing. New websites, databases and research projects have been developed."
"It is possible to alleviate brain drain," Pierson says. "I am looking forward to hearing more success stories from our African project."
The African project is working with five universities: the Centre for the Development of Renewable Energies in Algeria; the College of Engineering and the Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology in Ghana; the University of Nigeria in Nsukka, Nigeria; the Cheikh Anta Diop University of Dakar in Senegal; and the Chinhoyi University of Technology in Zimbabwe.
The UNESCO brain gain initiative is part of HP's Global Citizenship programme. HP is providing technology and training as well as funding research visits and meetings between the five universities.
- Cristy Burne, iSGTW