Brussels, 03 Nov 2004
Speakers from Germany's two largest political parties have aired their different views on the country's experience of brain drain at a conference on scientific exchange in Berlin.
While Helge Braun, Member of the German Bundestag representing the Christian Democrat party, claimed on 1 November that 'The emigration of scientists is not being systematically comprehended in Germany,' Parliamentary State Secretary for Education and Research and Social Democrat, Ulrich Kasparick, claimed that Germany is retaining its best scientific brains.
Both speakers welcomed German researchers spending time abroad while emphasising the importance of ensuring that they return to their home country. More must be done to make this an attractive option, said Mr Braun: 'Excellent scientists need internationality. We must not, therefore, only support young researchers with an outward plane ticket, but in particular with a return ticket and a welcome package in the form of concrete employment in a research institute.'
Mr Kasparick pointed to the structural changes to research and teaching in German universities, including the establishment of 'junior professorships' as evidence of the government's achievements in terms of improving the research environment. Some 14 per cent of these new positions are occupied by non-German researchers. 'We have prised open the old, rusty career path and are now offering researchers early independence,' said Mr Kasparick.
Mr Braun was less satisfied with the junior professorship initiative. He cited a recent survey that found only 6.1 per cent of PhD and postdoctoral students considered the attainment of such a position desirable. 'The junior professorship is leading to further emigration because of the lack of definition for 'tenure track',' he said. An uncertain legal situation and a lack of recognition for the junior professors abroad are exacerbating the situation, he added.
Mr Braun also claimed that Germany cannot speak of 'brain circulation' because researchers tend to move in one direction. Germany receives scientists and students from Eastern Europe and Asia, while German researchers themselves go to the UK or the US. Germany also loses its scientists, particularly its natural scientists, in their most productive years, said Mr Braun.
While Mr Braun concluded with a list of challenges facing the German research community, Mr Kasparick emphasised the programmes and initiatives that the government has launched in order to secure Germany's leading position in international research.
Mr Braun's challenges include failures to transpose biotechnology patent regulations, liability questions with regard to gene technology, a lack of tenure track options, the danger of being penalised for receiving third party funds, and cumbersome bureaucratic requirements in clinical research.
In contrast Mr Kasparick pointed to funding programmes such as the Emmy Noether programme and the Graduate College of the German Research Community, which will, he said, bring more young researchers to Germany The new Alexander von Humboldt Foundation prizes are attracting both established and new researchers to Germany, and the reform of donation regulations has led to further possibilities for private sponsoring, said the State Secretary.