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China Ramping Up 'Brain Gain' Strategies
October 22, 2012

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Despite having the world's second-largest economy and an industrial engine second to few, China is fighting brain drain. The country has recently announced a new round of initiatives aimed at reversing the trend of working people staying abroad after leaving their homeland in search of better money and opportunities in other countries. (The Chinese even have a name for such returnees: "sea turtles.")

The figures are, to some, startling. A full 14 percent of university-age students in other countries come from China. It is the highest such figure in the world. (Indeed, 22 percent of non-American students at American universities come from China.) The trend goes back to 1978, when then-leader Deng Xiaoping encouraged Chinese students to go abroad to study and then come back and share what they had learned. Many students left, and fewer came back.

The trend is starting to reverse, with 186,000 Chinese students returning home to work in 2011, a 40-percent increase on the year before. The Chinese government has embarked on a program designed to result in "brain gain." Incentives include tens of thousands of yuan in cash and deep discounts or outright giveaways of homes, offices, and laboratory spaces. The Chinese government is particularly interested in scientists and high-tech students, and one sweetener in recent years has been an add-on of fast-tracking children's applications to top schools.

The growing Chinese economy has certainly been an incentive for many in recent years, but some countries, like Australia, have fared even better during the global financial crisis. Geographically, Australia is not all that far away from China, and Chinese participants in Australia higher education programs have grown steadily in recent decades. And, despite the economic downturn in Europe and the U.S., the number of Chinese students studying there continues to grow. The Chinese government hopes, however, to make coming home so appealing that the "sea turtles" continue to multiply for years to come.






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