How to stop brain drain in Serbia?

A survey conducted by the National Youth Council of Serbia found that 50% of young people in Serbia want to emigrate and 25% are in the planning stages, a phenomenon called a brain drain.

The main reasons for wanting to leave is a desire for a more dignified way of life and a higher standard of living, according to Vladamir Tintor from

“The government’s Economic Migration Strategy estimated that around half a million people left the country between 2007 and 2019, at a rate of between 30,000 and 60,000 a year. Most go to Germany, then Austria, and Slovenia,” he said.

Youth brain drain is one of the most worrisome problems for the six countries of the Western Balkans (WB6)—Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Montenegro, North Macedonia, Kosovo, and Serbia.

The numbers are shocking. In the last three decades, as a result of massive emigration, Serbia has lost 9 percent of its citizens, North Macedonia 10 percent, Bosnia and Herzegovina 24 percent, and Albania 37 percent, according to figures cited by EUObserver. These are mostly young, educated, and skilled people who decided to “vote with their feet.”

The pace and intensity of the problem rank the WB6 among the top brain drain leaders in the world, with estimates that the region will lose a quarter to half of its youth talent in the forthcoming decades. 

Despite the bleak picture, the Physics Institute in Belgrade might have a solution for young scientists who are eager to leave the country. After talking to a number of young researchers, the Institute came to the conclusion that the most important reason for them returning to Serbia was not the salary but rather research conditions, i.e. conditions for performing scientific work, and if these conditions improved, young scientists will most likely stay in the country rather than leave.

“For ten years, more people have been returning to the Institute than leaving. The number of people who left has increased, but the number of people returning is growing a little faster than that,” says Dr. Aleksandar Bogojević, the Institute’s director.

Why do young scientists return?

“I returned to Serbia and started working at the Physics Institute primarily because I wanted to return to my country, to live here, and I realized that my career here would not suffer in any way and that the working conditions here are just as good as abroad”, says Dr. Jakša Vučičević, who returned from the Institute for Theoretical Physics in Saclé near Paris and then won the prestigious European ERC grant.

“I decided to return to Serbia because my heart is in the right place here and I had enough of living abroad for nine years. True, I broadened my horizons, gained experience and saw how science works at more developed universities and I thought it was time to return”, says Dr. Nataša Adžić, who returned to the Institute from the Faculty of Physics of the University of Vienna.

“Working at the Physics Institute is a privilege. It is an environment with good conditions for engaging in scientific work and it is a place that I consider my scientific home”, says Dr. Saša Dujko, who returned from James Cook University in Australia.

The Physics Institute in Belgrade, which is considered an institute of national importance for the Republic of Serbia, employs more than 200 researchers in its 25 laboratories, most of whom spent part of their education or career abroad.

“The beauty of the Physics Institute is that it provides a high degree of academic freedom and what I need as a theorist is administrative support. There is better administrative support here, at the Physics Institute than the one I saw in the West”, says Dr. Igor Prlina, who returned from Brown University in the USA.

“During my stay on postdoctoral studies in Lisbon, I saw that other research institutions around the world, at least in the context of the theoretical research I am engaged in, are no better than the institutions we have here in Belgrade,” says Dr. Marko Vojinović, who returned from the University of Lisbon, Portugal.

“No matter how well I fit into German society, I still felt like a foreigner there. I wanted to go back to my house and the Institute is my house”, says Dr. Sonja Predin, who returned from the Institute of Informatics in Hof, Germany.

(Biznis i Finansije, Euractiv, 01.12.2023)

This post is also available in: Italiano

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