MADRID — Santiago Oviedo, a lanky 24-year-old from Madrid, is on track to get his master’s in physics in October — a crucial milestone in his dream of becoming a researcher probing the origins of the universe.
Spain won’t benefit from his big brain.
Because of education spending cuts and Spain’s downward economic spiral, Oviedo is planning to emigrate to Britain, France, the Netherlands, or Germany to get his PhD or work at a company that lets him do research. He’s afraid he may never work or raise a family in his country.
If he had graduated two years ago, Oviedo would have stood a good chance of landing a government-funded scholarship and grant for four years of doctoral study and research. That has evaporated in an austerity drive that has brought slashed budgets for scientific research and waves of layoffs.
With Spain’s unemployment rate for people under 25 at an astonishing 53 percent, young Spaniards are leaving the country in droves. Most seek jobs, but some, like Oviedo, are leaving because the government is struggling to afford to develop their minds.
Since 2009, when Europe’s financial crisis hit full-bore, the number of Spaniards in their late teens, 20s, and early 30s leaving the country has increased 52 percent — from about 12,500 to nearly 20,000 according to the government statistics agency. Young and talented Europeans from other hurting nations — Greece, Ireland, Italy, and Portugal — are also abandoning home not only for stronger European countries but for surging former European colonies in Africa, Asia, and the Americas.
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 which is 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,’’ said Oviedo. He blames politicians for immersing Spain in its misery.
In addition to education spending cuts, Spain eliminated its Ministry of Science and Innovation to save money last December, making it a division of the Economy Ministry. In May, the country saw a tide of protests against the education squeeze by university students and teachers.
‘‘Science isn’t a priority now in Spain,’’ 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. ’’
Oviedo’s fears mirror those of Spanish architecture student Rafael Gonzalez del Castillo.
‘‘I see myself working abroad,’’ said Gonzalez del Castillo, as do many of his classmates at a Madrid university.
The long-term toll could be sinking competitiveness as countries lose many of their best and brightest amid falling birthrates — a potential formula for a vicious circle of economic agony. But countries like Spain could benefit if young emigres return because they would bring back work and language skills that would help fix low productivity, said Gayle Allard, an economist with Madrid’s IE Business School.
‘‘If they come back it will be for the good of the country,’’ said Allard. ‘‘If they don’t come back, this is a tragedy.’’
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-gone-bust similar to Spain’s. Their top destinations are Britain, Australia, Canada, and the United States.
Orla Kelleher, executive director of the Aisling Irish Community Center in Yonkers, N.Y., said the volume of newly arrived Irish jobseekers had multiplied six times ‘‘if not more’’ since 2009.
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.
‘‘If I hadn’t landed a job in advance I’d have been heading to London anyway,’’ said Whelan, who now works as a freelance journalist.