Tertiary Education Migration and Cook Islands' Development
In 2016, field research in the Cook Islands explored the correlation of migration, education and development in the Pacific by focussing on the impacts of tertiary education migration on the development of the Cook Islands. A total of 29 participants contributed to this research, most fitting into at least one of these three categories: a) returned tertiary education migrants b) non-returned education migrants, and c) Cook Islands Governmental officials. Depopulation is one of the greatest challenges for the Cook Islands today. While striving for rapid development and for meaningful participation in an ever-changing global economy, obtaining overseas university degrees is seen as an attractive option for many young Cook Islanders. It is not only seen as a way to contribute to the development of their home country, but to also ensure that opportunities for personal growth are abundant. With many fearing that the departure of the ‘brightest minds’ to overseas universities results in brain drain, this research explores the drivers for the decision-making regarding migration. It further discusses the lived realities of tertiary education migrants who chose to return home after obtaining an overseas university degree and the implications of this movement for the Cook Islands Government. This research found that the key drivers for the decision-making regarding tertiary education migration may not be reduced to the availability of quality university study, but that there is a variety of other factors that influence young Cook Islanders. Instead of preventing young promising Cook Islanders from leaving the country, this research suggests that the overseas diaspora could be a valuable resource to contribute to Cook Islands’ development. Further, this research found that strictly applying the neo-classical approach to migratory processes does not seem sufficient to explain the perceived hurdles and enablers for returned graduates from the Cook Islands.