20 October 2017 Register to receive our free newsletter by email each week
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CANADA: Brain drain is so 1997

A Canadian brain drain seems to be a bygone issue after the government invested heavily to help staunch the flow of academics southward. Just last decade one leader declared that Canada had "become a training ground of great researchers for the US and other countries". Now the nation is repatriating lost academics and attracting new stars.

Fear-laden speeches from Canadian university leaders bemoaning high rates of lost academics have all but disappeared from the political dialogue in this country.

Canada's economy has bounced back from an era that saw funding council budgets cut across the board and universities starved of funds from their provinces. In a study of 1995 graduates, 300,000 people or 1.5% of the entire group made the move to the US.

The turnaround began in 1998, when the federal government made several major investments. Key programmes, namely the Canada Research Chairs (CRC) and a research infrastructure envelope called the Canadian Foundation for Innovation, were created and went about helping to repatriate many lost Canadians and attract new international stars.

In a recent speech, Association of Universities and Colleges of Canada (AUCC) president Claire Morris brought out some numbers that point to the close of the lost-talent chapter. "The 1,848 Canada Research Chairs created over the last several years, have successfully repatriated 250 Canadian researchers and attracted 653 international research leaders," she told her audience. "This is truly a reversal of the brain drain."

Contrast that with her predecessor Robert Giroux who, in 1998, made the remark about Canada becoming a training ground for great researchers for other countries.

Healthier numbers of Canadians remain in the country. A survey of earned doctorates found that four out of every five individuals who graduated with a PhD between 1 July 2003 and 30 June 2004 intended to remain in Canada in the year following graduation. Most of those in the other fifth were looking for international academic experience before deciding to settle in Canada, with only 8% saying that they were not intending to come back.

"It's a sea change from where we were a decade ago," says AUCC senior advisor Herb O'Heron, who has watched the numbers of faculty rise by 21% in the last six years. "It's certainly a different climate from when faculty were being cut."

Though the fears of an academic brain drain seem quelled, O'Heron does see other pressures for Canadian academic institutions. Despite the rise in hiring, two thirds of PhDs still end up not staying in academia, a figure that needs to be raised if his organisation's recent hiring projections are to be met.

Of the current 40,000 faculty currently working in Canadian universities about 21,000 will need to be replaced, while as many as 13,600 new professors will need to be hired by 2016 to keep pace with record enrolment numbers. From 1998 to 2006, enrolment increased by a stunning 37%.

O'Heron says Canada's neighbour to the south, which faces the same demographic pressures, will continue to try and lure Canada's PhDs and professors.
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