China Suffers From Worst Brain Drain In The World

Feb. 13, 2007
High ratio of students who study abroad but never come home.

China suffers the most severe brain drain of any country, raising fears there may not be enough talent and skill around to manage the world's fourth largest economy, state media said Feb. 13. Out of about one million Chinese that have studied abroad since the 1980s, two thirds have chosen to stay overseas after graduation, the highest ratio of any economy, the China Daily said, citing official data.

"It has been a great loss for China... to see well-educated professionals leave after the country has invested a lot in them," said Li Xiaoli, a researcher at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences. "China is now in dire need of people of expertise," said Li, the co-author of a new report on the problem.

Since 2002, more than 100,000 students have gone abroad to study each year, but in the same period, the number of returnees has hovered between 20,000 and 30,000 a year, the newspaper said, citing Ministry of Education figures. To a certain degree, the trend is unavoidable as it reflects China's growing integration with the outside world, it said. But some experts have called on the government to at least stem the tide by making the domestic job market more attractive to professionals overseas and to offer incentives to encourage their return.

"We need to set up a system to manage the outflow and inflow of talent," Bian Binbing, the Shanghai-based chief executive of CBP Career Consultants said. "Right now, China is adopting an overall approach, looking at the outflow as a whole, but we need look at the individual cases, especially the people with much-needed skills in high and new technologies," he said.

There are already some preferential policies in place, such as low-interest loans for business start-ups, but more is needed.

Chinese companies find it hard to compete with American or European firms, both in terms of the salaries they can offer, and in terms of less easily quantifiable benefits. "Chinese enterprises are not mature enough," said Chen Bo, a Shanghai-based human resources consultant with McAllen International, a corporate management consulting company. "Maybe you've gone abroad to study this special field but once you graduate, you can't find a job at home to use your skills and that's why you stay overseas to develop professionally."

Economists struggling to find a silver lining have pointed out that the brain drain helps ease pressures in the labor market and also boosts inward remittances, the China Daily said. It cited a recent United Nations report showing that China receives about $20 billion a year from emigrants remitting money back home.

Copyright Agence France-Presse, 2007

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