Blog Post

Brain drain, gain, or circulation?

Over the long-term (pre-crisis) period analysed, Spain and the UK seemed the best placed at attracting high-quality scientists. France and Germany were broadly breaking even in terms of quality, although we note that they were facing significant net outflows of scientists, as was the UK.

By: Date: November 25, 2014 Topic: Innovation & Competition Policy

Source: OECD, own calculations

For each author and mobility profile, the median across the relevant journals’ Source-Normalized Impact per Paper (SNIP) over the entire period is calculated. A SNIP impact value that is higher than one means that the median attributed SNIP for authors of that country/category is above average.

International mobility of scientific researchers is inferred from authors listed in the Scopus Custom database of peer-reviewed scientific publications, with at least two documents during the reference period, based on changes in the location of their institutional affiliation. Outflows are defined on the basis of their first affiliation. Inflows are defined on the basis of the final affiliation and exclude individual authors who “return” to their original country of affiliation.

This chart benchmarks the median quality1 of scientists leaving or moving (for the first time) to a country between 1996-2011. The size of the bubble corresponds to total flows (inflows plus outflows). Countries in red are net contributors to the international market for scientists, those in blue net recipients2.

Ideally, a country should want to be below or on the 45-degree line, indicating that the quality of the newcomers is just as high (or higher) as that of the leavers. Conditional on this, a country should also prefer a larger rather than smaller bubble, representing a sizeable flow of scientists and indicating a full exploitation of synergies gained from international cooperation. Finally, countries should aim to land in the top-right quadrant, indicating higher quality of both incoming and outgoing researchers.

Over the long-term (pre-crisis) period analysed, Spain and the UK seemed the best placed at attracting high-quality scientists. France and Germany were broadly breaking even in terms of quality, although we note that they were facing significant net outflows of scientists, as was the UK.

All in all, in the sample here presented, while the US (unsurprisingly) comes out as the top performer in terms of net inflow of quality researchers, Italy ranks quite poorly. Not only the country is a net contributor of scientists, it also trades high quality researchers for lower quality ones. Time for a reform of the university system?


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