There is no 'brain drain' from the UK, concludes new report

October 5, 2005

Brussels, 04 Oct 2005

A new report from the Higher Education Policy Institute in the UK has concluded that, rather than suffering from a 'brain drain' of qualified researchers, the UK benefits from a substantial net immigration of academics.

The report is based on a previous study of staff movement in higher education institutions, as well as analysis of the publication records of academics, which can also reveal their movements between different institutions and countries.

The report concludes that between 1995-6 and 2002-03, there was a substantial net immigration of researchers to the UK - on average around 1.4 academics arrived for every one that left. Staff on researcher grades accounted for roughly two-thirds of migration in both directions, suggesting that overall figures are heavily influenced by a large group of post-doctorates who spend only limited time in the UK.

While migration rates at senior level are relatively low, the report's publication and citation analysis suggests that in terms of researchers with publications to their names in recent years, the UK loses more than it gains. However, when considering only highly cited researchers, this picture is again reversed, with the UK enjoying a net gain.

Thus, the report explains: '[W]hereas the UK may gain people without publications to their name - typically post-doctoral staff - among academic staff who publish, the UK loses people in the early stages of their career - perhaps better established post-doctoral staff - but [...] it attracts more people than it loses at later stages in their careers, when they have built up a reputation.'

Such findings reinforce the report's main conclusion, which is that the vast majority of movement takes place among junior post-doctoral staff, often before they have embarked on a research career, and that these periods abroad should not be regarded so much as emigration as career development. 'Despite well-publicised stories about Nobel Prize winners abandoning this country for the USA, there is far less movement among staff later in their careers, but to the extent that there is [...] this country appears to gain,' argues the report. 'This is so even with the USA, where it is clear that there is no net 'brain drain' among top researchers but rather the reverse.'

As one interviewee for the report put it: 'We are beneficiaries of the free market, not its victims.' Most academic institutions in the UK accept the loss of good people to overseas universities as the price they pay for being able to attract good people from around the world themselves.

Finally, the report notes that compared with other countries such as Germany, the Netherlands and Switzerland, overall levels of mobility in the UK are actually quite modest. 'There is also some evidence that researchers from European countries are beginning to treat the UK as UK researchers regard the US, coming here to begin their careers and establish their reputations, and then returning to their home countries to continue their careers,' the report concludes.

For further information, please consult the following web address:
http:/// sp?ID=1 80&DOC=reports

CORDIS RTD-NEWS / © European Communities
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