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Monday, August 8, 2016

Investing in minds to stop brain drain

Beijing lures back foreign graduates with lucrative offers



BEIJING: As a young biologist at the University of Michigan, Chen Xiaowei had plenty to like about life in the United States.

He was paid well as a researcher and enjoyed raising his family in Ann Arbor, a town he remembers as beautiful, friendly and highly educated.

But an offer from a Chinese university for him to return home to Beijing was too generous not to consider.

In addition to a comparable salary, he was promised enough startup research money that he wouldn’t have to worry about pursuing grants.

So in 2014 he moved back with his wife and two children.

“I feel freer to pursue my best ideas,” Chen said.

He said he has received such generous support that he’s able to study a disease through symptoms in both the liver and muscles simultaneously – something he said he would not be able to do in the United States because of limitations on grants, which are often tied to projects instead of researchers.

Chen, who earned a doctorate in physiology at Michigan in 2008, has joined thousands of high achieving overseas Chinese recruited to come home through the 1,000 Talents programme, one of many state efforts to reverse a decades long brain drain.

China, the world’s second-largest economy and one of the fastest growing, sees a need to bring home more of its brightest as it works to transform its largely labourintensive, lowtech economy into one fuelled by innovation in science and technology.

More than 300,000 Chinese studied in the US alone in the 2014-2015 school year.

Most of those students return to China, but the country has had difficulty regaining the most coveted graduates – those with advanced degrees and experience in science and engineering.

A 2014 report by Oak Ridge Institute shows 85% of the 4,121 Chinese students who received doctorates in science and engineering from American universities in 2006 were still in the US five years later.

The 1,000 Talents programme offers recruits salaries several times more than what a Chineseeducated local hire would receive, as well as heavily subsidised education for children and millions in startup research funds. The signup bonus alone can be as much as US$150,000 (RM605,850).

Chen, now an assistant professor at Peking University, was given a US$1.5mil (RM6.05mil) research fund.

“In the States,” he said, “it’s very hard for young people to get money when they need it the most.” — AP

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