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China’s Brain Drain

Fewer than 30% of Chinese students who have gone abroad for their education since 1978 have returned to China, according to a report released this week by the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences. News articles about the report appear in the Guardian and China Daily.

According to the China Daily article, between 1978 and 2006, about 1.06 million Chinese went to study overseas, and 275,000 of them returned home during the same period. Among the reasons for the brain drain, the new report states, are the social and economic gaps in personal income, employment opportunities, working conditions, and research facilities.

The news articles don’t say whether the number of returning students has changed over time. However, a February report from the same academy indicates that, among the 100,000 students who go abroad each year, a mere 20,000 returned to China in 2003. The numbers improved in subsequent years: 25,000 students in 2004 and 30,000 in 2005 returned to China after finishing their studies.

It isn’t clear why the numbers dipped so low in the early 2000s. But it is clear that the recent trend is likely to continue if some recently approved policies are effective. The Guardian reports that the Chinese government issued new regulations earlier this year aimed at enticing senior scientists, engineers, and corporate managers to return to China. The regulations give those scientists higher salaries, preferred housing, and guaranteed places for their children at universities. Given the variety of reasons graduates offer for not returning to China, it will be interesting to see how successful these incentives are.