A matter of displacement
The trouble with Dr. Crymble’s analysis
(“The accidental brain drain,” March issue)
is that the only way for Canadian academics
to be repatriated is to displace foreign workers
from Canadian universities. As a Brit who has
taught in a Canadian university for over two
decades, and who has become a Canadian
citizen along the way, I have to declare an
interest. But, although economic nationalism
and protectionism have become newly popular
in North America, I fail to see how reducing
the international freedom of movement for
academics will be beneficial for Canadians or
enhance the reputation of Canada’s universities.
Dr. Lewis is a professor of history at McGill University.
Not brain drain, brain exchange
i read adam crymble’s insightful article on
Canada’s accidental brain drain with a chuckle.
I too “accidentally” remained in the U.K. – in
my case, a total of 25 years – after intending to
earn my DPhil and promptly return home again.
The latter didn’t happen for both personal and
professional reasons. Meeting and marrying my
spouse was a starter.
After finishing my DPhil, I secured a two-
year contract as a research fellow. A series
of short-term contracts followed and then
the coveted “permanent contract” (not to be
confused with tenure). Five became 10 years,
and then 25. Having only known Canadian
universities as a student, my intellectual home
truly became British academia. Then, after 25
years, it was time to come “home.” I often tell
people that I left Vancouver alone with two suit-
cases, and returned with a shipping container,
a British husband and two children with dual
I don’t see my experience as a “brain drain”
so much as a “brain gain” or even “brain
exchange.” Yes, other than my family and the
Canada Revenue Agency, my homeland didn’t
seem to notice I was gone. There was far more
keeping me in the U.K. during my sojourn than
calling me back again. The U.K. provided me with
invaluable opportunities to secure research fund-
ing, write books and papers, collaborate with
leading scholars, gain leadership skills, travel the
world, and even make the occasional media
appearance. My career was made in the U.K., for
which I will be forever grateful.
Now that I’m back, I am sharing my knowl-
edge, skills and experiences with other scholars
and students. For this reason, I prefer not to see
the creation of human capital as a zero-sum
game. My journey there and back again does not
feel like a loss for one country and a gain for
another. Rather, my ability to live and think from
a planetary perspective undoubtedly would not
have come about if I hadn’t made that fateful
decision to leave. As multicultural as Canadian
society is, it can also be remarkably insular. All
countries can be. It is only by taking yourself
away from the familiar, and challenging yourself
to experience anew, that you grow. Thus, I
encourage more Canadian students to study and
stay abroad if the opportunity comes along. You
will be changed. And you will change those
around you. The world gains as a result.
Dr. Lee holds the Canada Research Chair in Global Health Governance, and is a professor in the faculty of health sciences, at
Simon Fraser University.
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www.affaresunverstares.ca / mars 2017 / 29 28 / www.unverstyaffars.ca / March 2017
A Canadian expat explains how a temporary
leave to study in the U.K. turned into a life
abroad – and what the government could do
to bring him back