Battle of the brains

April 1, 2004

Brussels, 31 Mar 2004

Current members of the European Union are pitched in battle to attract talented scientists from the ten countries preparing to join the Union, say a team of researchers in their science mobility report.

German and French research institutes are actively courting skilled scientists from the ten countries which will become full members of the European Union on 1 May this year, according to a report by Leeds University in England. It also predicts that Germany and Austria will become the top choice for many of the brightest foreign students from the enlargement countries.

Favourable funding schemes, incentives from the target universities themselves and the fact that courses can be followed in English are among the reasons offered for this trend. The authors of the study, which was supported by the European Commission's Phare programme and the UK's Economic and Social Research Council, note that Britain may miss the boat in attracting talented scientists if it rests on its laurels as the traditional European hub for English-speaking researchers.

Louise Ackers, lead author of the report entitled 'Mobility and excellence in the European Research Area' (Mobex), also worries that the initial movement of scientists will be one way only. "The general flow of researchers will be from the accession countries and into the existing Member States because it will be a lot easier for people to leave, and that will be a problem for the accession countries," she told The Scientist. Once people will be able to move more freely between new and old member countries, "you might actually get more of a brain circulation than a brain drain," she adds.

The up side

Mobex looks at a range of mobility issues affecting scientists, asking how these might impact on European scientific excellence. It considers which factors shape scientists' migration decisions, and the potential barriers to mobility for outbound and returning scientists.

Traditionally, one of the strongest 'pull factors' for migration has been economics. With not enough jobs to go around for science graduates in the new Member States and universities and research centres actively luring young scientists to the West, the motivation to move is strong. Last year's Eurobarometer Survey on the state of science in the candidate countries supports this view. "Young people are turning their backs on scientific careers, citing poor salary prospects as the chief reason," reads a prepared statement on the survey.

On the plus side, the Union could be on course to benefit, in the end, from this freer movement of talented scientists. Achieving the goals set out by the European Research Area (ERA) concept might well depend on the added enthusiasm and skills from these enlargement countries.

Research Commissioner Busquin alluded to this during the launch of the survey, in April 2003. "People are more optimistic about science in the candidate countries than in current Member States," he said. "They are more confident in… science and technology's [ability] to build a better future." He added that, as enlargement approaches, the time is right for greater investment in research in this region.

DG Research ndex_en.html
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