China a magnet for foreign scientists
Organizing big science projects seen as a powerful tool in solving global challenges
Ageneration ago, aspiring scientists from around the world would beat a path to the United States or Western Europe to pursue opportunities for research and careers that were not available at home.
The phenomenon was usually described, with negative overtones, as the “brain drain”. The departure of skilled scientists was seen as a net loss to their home countries that only benefited the advanced economies that took them in.
In an era of increased globalization, such concerns have lost much of their relevance. As many of the great scientific innovators of the past could already have told us, science has no borders.
Some of the greatest advances of recent years — in genetics, communications technology, medicine and alternative energy — have only been possible thanks to extensive collaboration among scientists around the world.
Governments also have discovered the benefits of having their talented nationals trained abroad before returning home to share their skills and experience. Others have seized the opportunity to import their own foreign talent to help boost their science-based projects.
In an era of rapid economic growth, China has moved from being a net exporter of scientific talent to a situation in which it now challenges the US as the biggest magnet for foreign scientists.
China’s Thousand Talents Program, launched a decade ago, aimed to encourage foreign-trained Chinese to return home while at the same time welcoming foreign scientists.
By the end of last year, more than 7,000 toplevel professionals, experts and entrepreneurs who studied or lived abroad had come to China since the program started. Most had studied at top colleges and universities and research institutes, or had gone on to work at international companies from around the world.
China’s Ministry of Science and Technology recently issued new guidelines on recruiting even more international researchers to take part in major science and technology projects.
By recruiting or attracting more international scientists, according to the ministry, China aims to further promote its strategy of innovation-driven development.
It acknowledged that China had long been an exporter of scientific talent to other countries but that, in recent years, it had increasingly attracted foreign-born researchers with benefits ranging from internationally competitive salaries to unrivaled research resources.
Also, under the new guidelines, foreigners will for the first time be allowed to lead public research projects.
In a parallel initiative, China also announced this year that it intends to play a significant role in international scientific research projects.
Organizing big science projects is seen as a powerful tool in solving key global scientific challenges, the State Council, China’s Cabinet, said in March. As part of the strategy, China will use scientific diplomacy to enhance cooperation