Berlin attempts to woo émigrés

March 16, 2001

The German government has launched an €87 million (£55 million) campaign to attract top foreign academics and to win back young researchers who have emigrated to other countries in search of better opportunities.

The money, which comes from the proceeds of sales of third-generation mobile telephone licences, will be ploughed into several programmes run by the German Academic Exchange Service (DAAD) and the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation, which aims to lure talented young academics to Germany.

Federal education minister Edelgard Bulmahn said: "We must stop the brain drain and turn it into a brain gain. We need to attract more foreign students and academics, and at the same time offer young German academics working abroad the best opportunities to return."

Some of the extra funds will go into a DAAD programme to attract guest professors to teach and research in economically important disciplines, such as information technology and biotechnology, in which Germany has academic shortages.

Other DAAD funds will go towards exporting German degrees abroad and to developing international networks with foreign universities.

The von Humboldt foundation will fund initiatives to encourage renowned academics to set up research centres in Germany, research prizes for top foreign academics and sponsorship for foreign students to establish careers in Germany.

Ms Bulmahn said she hoped universities would use the opportunities offered by the extra funding and by measures to improve working conditions for young German academics to make Germany the centre for international cutting-edge research.

"This is also the best way to help our young academics, who, for good reasons, gather experience in top US research institutes, to continue their careers in Germany," she said.

About 15 per cent of the 36,000 young academics who are awarded a doctorate in Germany each year emigrate to other countries. Many of them never return.

The most popular destination is the United States. Earlier this year, Ms Bulmahn travelled to Silicon Valley to appeal to them to return home.

Ms Bulmahn promised less bureaucratic working conditions, junior professorships to help academic careers progress more quickly and new funding programmes for high achievers.

But according to German news reports, most emigres remained politely unmoved. As well as the greater independence, faster career advancement and closer cooperation between science and industry in the US, the high-flyers also know that much of Germany's higher education system is doggedly resisting reforms.

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