Brain Drain from Europe

Europe and the challenge of the brain drain, IPTS Report, vol. 29, Sami Mahroum, 1998

The brain drain is often treated as a problem of developing countries. This article looks at the migration of highly skilled scientist from Europe to the United States. There is a case that developing countries may gain a net profit from the brain drain thanks to income from remittances. More recently, brain circulation has been discovered as an important source of investment and development.

These patterns don't hold for Europe, however. Remittances aren't a relevant source of income, and - most markedly in the case of the UK - scientists who move to the United States tend to stay there. It has become ever more difficult for Europe to establish and maintain centers of excellence in cutting-edge research. Just a few months ago, the Swiss pharmaceutical Novartis, decided to headquarter all R&D in the Boston area. In terms of retaining star scientists, Europe may actually end up doing worse than, say India, Brazil or China, since few new opportunities are opening up to attract talent back. The article cites Switzerland as an exception to the rule. Yet, as the Novartis example shows, Switzerland may succeed in attracting foreign scientists, but faces similar problems as the rest of Europe in repatriating its own scientists and in retaining research leadership.

Since working with star scientists is crucial to commercial success, especially in the biotech industry (Zucker, Darby, Brewer, 1994), the brain drain of top scientists places Europe at an immediate disadvantage.

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