China a magnet for for­eign sci­en­tists

China Daily European Weekly - - COMMENT - Har­vey Mor­ris

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

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