Class of 2012: Europe’s young pursue dreams abroad

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MADRID — Santiago Oviedo, a lanky 24-year-old from Madrid, is on track to get his master’s degree in physics in October for a crucial milestone in his dream of becoming a researcher probing the origins of the universe.

Spain, however, will not benefit from his big brain.

Because of education spending cuts and Spain’s downward economic spiral, Mr. Oviedo is planning to emigrate to Britain, France, the Netherlands or Germany to get his Ph.D. or work at a company that lets him do research.

He is afraid he may never work or raise a family in his country.

If he had graduated two years ago, Mr. Oviedo would have stood a good chance of landing a government-funded scholarship and grant for four years of doctoral study and research. That opportunity has evaporated in an austerity drive that has brought slashed budgets for scientific research and waves of layoffs at companies large and small.

With Spain’s unemployment rate for people younger than 25 at an astonishing 53 percent, young Spaniards are leaving the country to seek brighter futures.

Since Europe’s financial crisis hit full-bore in 2009, the number of Spaniards in their late teens, 20s and early 30s leaving the country has increased 52 percent to nearly 20,000 from about 12,500, according to the government statistics agency.

European exodus spreads

Other young and talented Europeans are leaving the economic disasters in Greece, Ireland, Italy and Portugal for stronger European countries, as well as former European colonies in Africa, Asia and the Americas.

Mr. Oviedo is set to join a growing number of young Spaniards giving up on Spain, a nation that had visions of grandeur during a decade-long property boom but now teetering on the edge of financial collapse.

“I don’t want to go away forever, but looking at the situation how it is now, maybe that will happen,” Mr. Oviedo said.

In addition to education spending cuts, Spain in December eliminated its Ministry of Science and Innovation to save money, making it a division of the Economy Ministry. In May, university students and teachers set off a tide of protests against the education squeeze, and some clashed with police.

“Science isn’t a priority now in Spain,” Mr. Oviedo said. “The economy is terrible. A couple years ago, we had a really good public health and education system, but now they are destroying it all. When I have children, I don’t want them to live here if they don’t have the things I have enjoyed.”

His fears mirror those of Spanish architecture student Rafael Gonzalez del Castillo.

“I see myself working abroad,” Mr. Gonzalez del Castillo said, as do many of his 25 architecture classmates at his elite Madrid university. “I don’t know where. It doesn’t matter where.”

Trekking to former colonies

Across the border from Spain, the number of Portuguese heading to former colonies Brazil and Angola for work has increased sharply since 2008.

The trend has accelerated since last year when Portugal got a bailout of its public finances, according to statistics based on consulate and embassy registrations.

Portugal’s prime minister suggested last year that unemployed teachers should consider heading to former colonies for work. The country does not track youth emigration, but researchers say it is rising.

One of Mr. Gonzalez del Castillo’s friends is a 26-year-old Spanish civil engineer who graduated in October and moved to Brazil last month, after a six-month job hunt in Spain that netted not a single job interview. She represents a sharp reversal for countries like Spain and Portugal, which for decades were on the receiving end of migrants from Latin America.

She already has had better luck in the booming business hub of Sao Paulo, getting an interview within two weeks of arriving. The woman did not want her name revealed because she entered Brazil on a tourist visa and fears she could be deported if caught seeking work.

In bailed-out Ireland, emigration has become a defining national characteristic. More than 76,000 people left last year, representing 1.7 percent of the population.

They joined 200,000 who have departed since 2008 at the end of a property boom that collapsed. Their top destinations are Britain, Australia, Canada and the United States.

Official statistics show that the vast majority of those leaving are in their 20s and 30s.

Orla Kelleher, executive director of the Aisling Irish Community Center in Yonkers, New York, said the volume of newly arrived Irish job seekers had multiplied six times “if not more” since 2009, after the implosion of the “Celtic tiger” economy.

Brian Whelan, 28, moved to London from Dublin two years ago after being recruited to work on the Irish pages of the Yahoo news site. Many of his Dublin friends are living outside the country, many in Canada.

“If I hadn’t landed a job in advance, I’d have been heading to London anyway,” said Mr. Whelan, who now works as a freelance journalist.

“Irish people are not having any difficulty landing jobs abroad. It’s often the best and the brightest who are going abroad. Some of the best-trained and most able young people are leaving because Ireland can’t afford to keep them.”

Copyright 2014 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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