SeeRRI’s Network of Affiliated Territories (NAT) “Tackle the brain drain challenge” seminar – 19/3/2021

To ensure the greatest possible impact of the insights, tools, and recommendations arising from SeeRRI, the project has formed a Network of Affiliated Territories (NAT) who share the same goals as SeeRRI regarding regional development policies and innovation ecosystems. NAT members have been participating in key project discussions and provided inputs for improving the SeeRRI model with the objective of contributing to the replication of the model in other R&I ecosystems across Europe.

SeeRRI also organizes seminars for NAT members introducing findings from other RRI projects that are relevant to them. The topic of brain drain has been addressed in several meetings between SeeRRI and NAT. On 19/3/2021, SeeRRI invited Thomas Berker, a professor from the Norwegian University of Science and Technology (NTNU), to present findings from our sister project TeRRItoria on this topic. As part of their work in TeRRItoria, Thomas and his colleagues have conducted twelve interviews with teachers and students at NTNU and ten interviews with local representatives from the rural regions of Røros and Namdalen in Norway.

In his presentation “Stopping the brain drain: The case of Trøndelag’s activities in TeRRItoria”, Thomas explained what they have learned about the difficult but, as it turns out, not impossible task of getting students to consider the attractiveness of life in small, remote places. Examples of bridge-building activities with which universities may help counter brain drain include: setting up student internships (creating more programs to send students to rural areas for internship); working with young graduates (creating dedicated “trainee programs” in rural areas, establishing links back to the universities); and using ambassadors (learning from teachers/researchers who are particularly engaged in sending their students to rural areas). The preliminary results from the study suggest that we may achieve a brain gain in rural areas if we can create a meaningful purpose (focusing on two-way flows of competence, and the relevance of higher education in the rural area), provide knowledge (especially through learning by doing), and provide tools and resources for moving (such as student internships, “first-job” internships, etc.).

In the discussion part of the seminar, it was interesting to hear from the feedback of the participants that Australia has struggled with the same challenges for many decades and that they have come up with similar measures as what Thomas presented. SeeRRI’s coordinator, Nhien Nguyen, also explored the possibility of applying the SeeRRI process model to tackle the brain drain challenge, starting with reformulating the challenge together with key stakeholders, co-designing a plan for addressing these challenges, and jointly implementing the strategies for brain gain.

The seminar also served as a virtual space for mutual learning and networking among territories in SeeRRI and NAT.