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Brain Drain

from 24Heures, Tuesday April 7 1998 Historically, wars between nations, and later between people, have always been about land and its approriation.
Now that the land is generally distributed, a new type of war has appeared, the war about technology and its control.

This is, I believe, the new threat for the upcoming century

Shimon Perez

Brain Drain outside european countries has received an extensive coverage from media and has been the subject of many discussions. Beeing directly involved in this matter, the Swiss-List members are particularly well suited to further investigate its consequences.

Far from being exhaustive, we think a good introduction consists in reviewing what has been published on the subject. You will find here some links covering at least part of the problem.
You have the choice to go directly to the web site of the articles (html) or download a pdf file from it (use the free Adobe Acrobate Reader to view it).

Why leaving ? The first question is clearly this one. The main reasons are well described in two articles: the first one (french: html) from the weekly newspaper L'Hebdo about the difficult situation of what is called "the intermediate body" in Universities whose lack of strength is due in part from stagnant funding for research as well as the pyramidal structure of managing Science (L'Hebdo, french:html1, html2). The second article (english: html) shows clearly a reduction of the american workforce in academic research which is replaced by european postdocs usually subsidized by their governement in hope of obtaining a complement of formation useful when they return.This effect is indeed becoming quite widespread, especially in well known american Universities. These two factors combines in attracting more and more swiss (and european) postdocs in the US.

This trend has been increasing in the last years and worries european countries such as France (Liberation, french: 19Kb pdf) and Switzerland as shown in media coverages ( Tages Anzeiger, german: 43Kb pdf, Tribune de Genève, french: 433Kb pdf, Swiss television "Temps Present"). More than brain drain, entrepreneurship drain is a central point which could hurt long term innovation and prevent a competitive development of local high tech companies and the creation of jobs for young scientist. One of the main effort is now to provide good technology transfer between swiss Universities and economic forces interested in financing the development of products based on scientific discoveries (NZZ, german: 179Kb pdf).

Spending some time abroad to complement its formation is not a bad thing and should be encouraged even before post-doctoral studies. The key issue consists more in providing ressources to allow a return after few years abroad. The lack of good contacts between the expatried and his country can have very negative aspects (La Recherche, french: 75 Kb pdf ).
This is where the Swiss-List is focusing right now by using modern communication tools such as internet and the web.

Early in 98, we met with Secretary of State Charles Kleiber and we suggested some solutions to the problems pointed out by our members. The meeting lasted two hours and we appreciated the constructive interest of Mr. Kleiber. You can find a summary of the meeting here. New tools for improving the links between the world community of Swiss abroad and their homeland have been put in place by the Office of Science and Technology of the Embassy of Switzerland in USA (html 1, html 2).

A more recent survey describes the profile of young Swiss abroad but addresses also some of the reasons pushing some of them to come back to Switzerland ( Le Temps, french: 119Kb pdf 1 , 74Kb pdf 2 , 87Kb pdf 3 )

Below is a short survey made in early May 99 with 22 Swiss-List members

The first question asked was to evaluate the relevance of three assets which have been mentionned as specific of Swiss-List members. The ratings vary from 1 (irrelevant) to 5 (very relevant)

Swiss-List survey

The main asset of swiss-listers is clearly the exposure to new economy. Being the "brain" as well as having an entrepreneur spirit may also be an asset but it is clearly not the most specific.

The second question asked was to evaluate the relevance of four possible actions aiming in facilitating the return of Swiss abroad. Again, the ratings vary from 1 (irrelevant) to 5 (very relevant)

Swiss-List survey

Actions aiming at improving direct contacts are preferred. The use of scholarships to help to return are not the most favoured option.

Additional comments have been provided by the participants to the survey. They will be added here shortly.


Laurent Mieville, May 2000.
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