2022-08-28 07:26:16

SHANGHAI — Tens of thousands of “high-level” scientists settled in China’s largest cities over the past decade, helping reverse years of brain drain and turning their new homes into some of the largest research centers in the world, according to a report published Saturday at the annual Pujiang Innovation Forum in Shanghai.

Compiled by German-British academic publishing company Springer Nature for a Chinese research institute, the report found the number of “high-level” scientists living and working in China surged 350% between 2012 to 2021. Cities in North America, Europe, and the rest of the Asia-Pacific region roughly doubled their scientist headcounts over the same period.

High-level scientists were identified and located by tracking author address information for papers published in journals listed on the prestigious Nature Index.

Beijing and Shanghai topped the scientist growth list, followed by London, New York, and Shenzhen.

The growing number of scientists choosing to live and work in China has helped reverse a decadeslong “brain drain” that cost the country some of its brightest scientific talent. The shift comes as China looks to build its domestic research capabilities and achieve research self-sufficiency amid growing global tensions and the COVID-19 pandemic.

Since 2013, more than 80% of Chinese students abroad have chosen to return home each year. That’s up from an average of 25% for the period between 1978 and 2007.

Many of these researchers are concentrated in the fields of chemistry, engineering, and physics, suggesting that measures are needed to diversify China’s research hubs, said Chang Jing, director of Innovation Policy Research Center at the Shanghai Institute for Science of Science.

A key driver of recruitment has been fierce competition between regional governments for skilled scientists. Cities have relaxed their household registration regulations and offered rich benefit packages for locally trained and returning research talents.

China has also begun aggressively recruiting international scientists with perks including funding of up to 800,000 yuan ($116,000) annually, Li Xin, an official at the Ministry of Science of Technology, said at the forum Sunday.

(Header image: sinology/VCG)