Elite Scientists and the Global Brain Drain
There are signs – one is world university league tables – that people increasingly think globally when choosing the university in which they wish to work and study. This paper is an exploration of data on the international brain drain. We study highly-cited physicists, highly-cited bio-scientists, and assistant professors of economics. First, we demonstrate that talented researchers are being systematically funnelled into a small number of countries. Among young economists in the top American universities, for example, 75% did their undergraduate degree outside the United States. Second, the extent of the elite brain drain is considerable. Among the world’s top physicists, nearly half no longer work in the country in which they were born. Third, the USA and Switzerland are per capita the largest net-importers of elite scientists. Fourth, we estimate the migration ‘funnelling coefficient’ at approximately 0.2 (meaning that 20% of top researchers tend to leave their country at each professional stage). Fifth, and against our prior expectations, the productivity of top scientists, as measured by the Hirsch h-index, is similar between the elite movers and stayers. Thus it is apparently not true that it is disproportionately the very best people who emigrate. Sixth, there is extreme clustering of ISI Highly Cited Researchers into particular fields in different universities. Seventh, we debate the questions: are the brain drain and this kind of funnelling good or bad for the world, and how should universities and governments respond?
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