Faroe Islands seeking to stem brain drain

As young people continue to leave Faroes at a record pace, one of the territory’s MPs is calling on Copenhagen to help the territory expand its higher education opportunities

The future of the remote Faroe Islands is at risk unless the self-governing Danish territory can halt the droves of residents who are leaving to settle abroad.

Located in the North Atlantic some 250 kilometres north-west of Scotland, and with a current population of 48,000, the 18-island archipelago is considering its options after statistics showed that 300 people move away each year.

According to figures from parliament, the Faroese population may drop below 42,000 in 30 years and fall to 37,000 in 2052.

The majority of those leaving are young people seeking education, though women in particular tend not to return. As a result, the Faroes face a gender deficit of around 2,000 women.

While the islands managed to recover from economic hardship following the collapse of its fishing industry in the 1990s and currently enjoys a low unemployment rate, its ageing population through the loss of young people threatens the country's future.

Sanna Svennson, 24, was born in Copenhagen but has a large family in Faroe Islands, where her mother was raised before she settled in Denmark.

She visits regularly and recognises the problems the islands face because of its limited educational and cultural offerings.

“There really isn’t very much to do that’s really stimulating or interesting, which is why so many people look abroad after they finish school,” Svensson told The Copenhagen Post.

Edmund Joensen, one of two MPs representing the Faroe Islands in the Danish parliament, hopes Copenhagen will set aside more money for educational opportunities in order to keep young people in the Faroe Islands.

“The Faroe Islands are suffering from a brain drain and the islands will lack the people necessary to ensure the survival of a welfare state,” Joensen told Kristeligt Dagblad. “That is why we need to strengthen higher education on the Faroe Islands.”

According to Svensson, tackling the lack of education could be just what is needed for the islands, which remain an attractive place to start a family because of its safety and strong sense of community.

“I think offering more education would actually help retain a lot of people that look abroad for schooling, because many people want to stay and start families because that’s how they’re brought up.”

The Faroe Islands are a self-governing territory in the Kingdom of Denmark but rely upon a grant from Denmark to cover about 12 percent of its annual budget. Around 10,000 people born in the Faroe Islands currently live in Denmark.

MP Flemming Møller Mortensen (Socialdemokraterne) acknowledged that the Faroe Islands were facing a problem and that as a member of the Kingdom of Denmark, could rely upon Copenhagen’s support.

“The most important tool for limiting emigration is creating jobs, education and good infrastructure and that is how Denmark can help by giving advice and sharing experiences,” Møller told Kristeligt Dagblad.

Giving help, he pointed out, needed to be done in agreement with the Faroese home rule authorities, “but this does not necessarily mean that Copenhagen is going to just show up with more money. Copenhagen needs to help as a fellow member of the kingdom, but not a big brother who shows up and starts bossing everyone around.”

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