CHINA: Ministry recruits 2,000 foreign scholars

In a bold move to rapidly expand research capacity of its universities, China's Ministry of Education is helping underwrite the costs of recruiting and retaining 2,000 foreign experts. About 70 select universities, as well as 211 schools that comprise an elite 100+ universities, can apply to the ministry's university section with proposals to expand key research positions.

Where approved, interviewing is already underway with candidates so far drawn heavily from the US and Europe. Although scholars with Chinese background may have an advantage, China is recruiting from all nationalities in an effort not unlike the academic "raids" conducted earlier by Western universities wanting to assemble potential Nobel Prize winners.

But China's effort is broader and is aimed at reinforcing the next generation professoriate with cutting-edge researchers. For the first five years, the funding for these higher-paying positions will be split between the national ministry, the relevant provincial government and the university involved; thereafter support will be borne by the university.

Attracting 2,000 professors from the West will not in itself constitute a brain drain although it will add to the impact caused by the general hiring freezes in western universities and the current migration underway back to Asia. In fact, China's effort may contribute to a major tipping point in science research in some disciplines.

Meanwhile, the giant nation is encouraging its best graduate students to study abroad in the US, Europe and other developed countries. At least 4,000 of these top graduates from the 211 elite universities and 1,000 a year from another 70 key institutions will be chosen.

The students will receive some US$20,000 year to cover living expenses and, depending on cost of tuition, may not require the overseas university or faculty host to provide more. They can go anywhere abroad as long as the foreign university or faculty will accept them, pending approval of China's ministry.

In the past, many of these students stayed on after graduating and in many western countries are contributing substantially to university research projects.

Now, however, the proportion of graduates returning to China has dramatically increased, even before the economic slowdown, because of the greater opportunities that exist at home. That repatriation will almost certainly increase.

* John Richard Schrock is a professor of biological sciences at Emporia State University in Kansas. He teaches in China for a month or two each year.