Brain Gain in Fiji? How do past emigrants’ experiences shape the education decisions and emigration plans of tertiary students in Fiji?
This thesis examines the case of Fijian youths’ increasing demand for higher education in order to explore the brain gain theorem. Its primary aim is to understand how past emigrants’ experiences shape the education decisions and emigration intentions of tertiary students in Fiji. This is achieved through semi-structured interviews with Fijian youths as well as an examination of policy and media reports. The research questions through which these aims are achieved are: Why do Fijian students enter higher education? Do Fijian students intend to migrate, and if so, why or why not? And what are the constraints and obstacles to Fijian students’ emigration intentions? The central conclusion of this thesis is that the brain gain effect is present in Fiji because half of the student-participants responded to the incentive effect, defined as the prospect of migration raising the expected returns to higher education, which is created by two distinct cultures of migration and three of the Fijian governments’ initiatives. The strength of their social ties determined whether they had perfect or imperfect information about the constraints and obstacles to their emigration intentions which in turn, determined the type of brain gain effect Fijian communities may be experiencing. In this thesis, the relationship between emigration and human capital formation is understood through the notion of the brain gain effect, defined as prospect of migration leads to a higher average level of education per individual in origin countries. Existing empirical studies have employed quantitative methods to establish the correlation between past emigration rates and current enrolment rates. The significance and novelty of this thesis lies in its adoption of qualitative case study methods in which real people were asked what they are doing and why, thus bringing us closer to a causal understanding of the relationship between higher education and emigration. In addition, by including ethnic and skill-level variables in the research design, this thesis shows that those remaining behind after upskilling may be some of Fiji’s ‘best and brightest.’