by Sarah Wolpers

For most freshmen, it is a goal to move to a big city, especially if they spend their lives in the countryside. Far away from home, parents and their “childhood”, to gain experience in living on their own, enjoying the student’s life, exploring the life in the metropolis. Nevertheless, the continuing trend of urbanisation is questioning the survival of smaller rural places, as an increasing number of youngsters are leaving rural areas, without returning. Is this a modern time problem? What effects does this have on these areas? What can be done, to be attractive for urbanised students to return to their hometowns?

The moving of people is not a modern-day phenomenon. Cross-border migration means moving of people inside a country and occur for example in the beginnings of the 1890s in Germany. At that time inhabitants of Prussia moved to Berlin or North Rhine-Westphalia for better job opportunities in the industrial sector. This example clearly presents that the internal mobility exists since the industrialisation and the upcoming urbanisation.

However, the latest cross-border migration has affected rural areas badly. Current studies show that young people, who are single, more educated, work in creative, professional knowledge-based fields prefer to stay in the big cities. The rural regions are facing a lot of problem because of this “Brain Drain”. Former lively towns slowly transform into ghost towns. Furthermore, the big city life is especially for young people more attractive because of a broader offering of activities and modernity. For that reason, young people are leaving their hometowns in rural areas for another lifestyle and better job perspectives.

This trend has stronger adverse effects on those communities. Local industries and businesses suffer as their pool of educated workers shrinks. This makes recruitment difficult and as a result standards are getting lower because the high-educated persons are staying in the big cities. Furthermore, taxpayers in the rural area have paid for the education of the youngers. They are investing in the quality of future workers, but the hometowns do not see any return on taxes. For example, the National Agency for Education and Statics Sweden worked out, that Northern Sweden is losing more than 30% of their recent qualified students because they left rural areas and moved to Stockholm, Gothenburg or Malmö. A similar case can be found in Austria. Most youngsters are moving for their studies to Vienna. But at the same time in the rural areas, like Vorarlberg or Burgenland, more than one-third of potential students. Even

Germany is facing this problem. In particular states in the Eastern part of the republic are struggling. At the same time areas as, Bavaria, Berlin or Hamburg, benefit from this ongoing trend. The former examples show the dilemma inside a country. Nevertheless, there is also a trend inside the European Union. During the economic- and euro-crisis young Greek and Spanish people left their home countries due to a lack of job opportunities home. In the long run, it will hurt the economy, because the best and brightest are making money and paying taxes elsewhere instead of home.

At the same time, the metropolitan areas are facing another dilemma, which arises from a large number of recent settlers. In big cities in Asia and Africa, they have to deal with the problem of the existence of slums. But there are already significant challenges in the European metropolis like air pollution and chaos on the roads. Also, housing shortages go hand in glove with rising rental and purchase price for real estate. This also affects students. For example, the current monthly rent for a 30qm Apartment is on average to 665 Euro in Munich. Nevertheless, youngest want to stay in those big cities. Concurrently, the rents in more rural areas getting lower and lower.

For that it can be asked, is there any opportunity to be attractive as a rural place for graduates to come back home?

Of course, in the first moment, the country life seems unattractive for young, passionate people. Nevertheless, it has also advantages. The closeness to nature, security and a stronger cohesion of the population can be named as benefits. The study mentioned above also confirm that married young couples who want to have a family move back to the countryside. For promoting the country life, the rural cities should raise awareness of what working in the rural part of the state is really like. This could be done by a campaign which shows the benefits but the disadvantages. Nobody wants to buy a pig in a poke. The small Bavarian village Bad Kissingen initiated a location marketing campaign last June. For instance, they rent video screens in the Munich’s and Frankfurt’s Metro stations for promoting the country life in Bad Kissingen. However, it remains to be seen whether the image campaign proves the expected success.

Also, the rural towns can cut unnecessary barriers to entry for promising talents. Especially today where most of the work can be done visually, it is important to have good broadband access in the rural places. For example, the United Kingdom established an investment fund to get 95 percent of the UK connected with superfast broadband, especially the rural areas. As well as the expansion of roads and high-speed railway transportation can be positive factors, also by moving companies in the rural area. That can help kick-start efforts to rebuild regional economies. In Sweden, some call for moving state jobs to the countryside, because that would generate more job opportunities. Besides, rural places can also become an Incubator for start-up businesses. For that reason, it is urgent that the European Union continues to finance the fund which financing Rural Development Programs. Those programs should support agriculture, but the primary focus should shift more towards investing in rural areas to secure their survival.

Because of the moving of young people, there is an increase in the percentage of older people in the countryside. Currently, there arises a big problem with the primary health care in the rural areas. As a solution, the German federal state of Bavaria is planning to offer 5 percent of the available place to study medicine for students who commit to working after college for at least eight years as a country doctor. This can also be one measure for other provinces, which are struggling with over-ageing.

As economic activity becomes increasingly concept rated everywhere, rural areas across the advanced world are likely to find themselves facing the same dilemma. Villages and towns in the countryside losing one generation after the other. The rural population are oveageing. The main reason for urbanised students not to return home can be found in the lack of job opportunities at home. Therefore, it is inevitable to invest in the infrastructure to increase the business conditions for companies. As a result, the regional economy can be rebuilt, and more jobs are getting available. This should be accompanied by a location marketing campaign to raise awareness about the new opportunities which are provided in the countryside. Nevertheless, no one can be committed to going back home after graduating from college.

26 February 2018
This text was published in Bullseye issue 71