Exploring the role of education in a MIRAB economy: Brain drain or brain gain? The case of Wallis and Futuna
Pursuit of higher education overseas is becoming a common pathway for young Wallisians and Futunans. A constructivist grounded theory study demonstrates that education has provided (i) a new exit route for young people, (ii) an opportunity to access employment overseas and (iii) an opportunity to access employment at home. Through Talanoa interviews, it was found that the decisions to settle permanently or to return are influenced by cultural, political, economic and structural factors amplified by the slow amalgamation of two conflicting systems. Many students are steered by the French education system and unable to return due to unsuited qualifications. Others choose not to return as a response to underdeveloped structures that constrain the use of qualifications in Wallis and Futuna. Access to education has seemingly intensified clashes between a ‘modern’ system based on equality of opportunity and a customary hierarchy where everyone has a place in society. Despite the need for qualifications, access to employment in Wallis and Futuna in practice is dependent on class structures and networks as a result of low employment opportunities and high labour availability. Yet, evidence of localisation and changing attitudes towards qualifications has suggested a new dimension of the brain gain. Young determined graduates have demonstrated strategic use of resources overseas and adapted new knowledge to the customary and political context. Access to education has proved to be a key component of the MIRAB society in Wallis and Futuna and a potential catalyst for a new stability, a possible post-MIRAB economy.