Emigration of Chinese Scientists and Its Impacts on National Research Performance From a Sending Country Perspective




Tian, Fangmeng

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Skilled emigration has become an important policy concern of developing countries for several decades. This dissertation closely examines the major effects of a scientific brain drain on the source country against the background of global talent competition. The sample used in this study is drawn from Chinese scientists in four disciplines of natural sciences at leading global universities. By combining biographical and bibliometric data, the dissertation not only demonstrates migration patterns of Chinese scientists, but also reveals their research productivity profiles between 1998 and 2006. The findings of this dissertation show that the scientific community in China experienced increasing personnel exchange with the English academia during the observation period. Emigrant scientists from China were selected positively, while returnee scientists were selected negatively. Both patterns seemed to turn stronger over time. However, the research gap between domestic scientists and overseas scientists had been reduced substantially in terms of average productivity or highest performance. Returnees with domestic degrees, instead of those with foreign degrees, largely drove the rising productivity level in China. In addition, domestic scientists benefited greatly from international collaboration in general, and collaboration with overseas Chinese in particular. This study also estimated the potential loss brought by the emigration of Chinese scientists. Simulation outcomes based on the empirical findings demonstrate that the intellectual loss to China looks striking under an ideal condition, but it would be reduced substantially in more realistic scenarios with limited budget and less international collaboration. The following counterfactual analysis shows that Chinese scientists would have made a greater contribution to the world, if more of them could move abroad. However, China’s research output would be lower than the actual level, because additional returnees and international collaboration would not enough to compensate the output of its lost manpower. According to the major findings of this dissertation, restrictive measures of international migration are counterproductive in improving global welfare. Specific policies are recommended to both China and the host countries, so that they can share the gain from emigration in a triple-win situation. This dissertation enriches our understanding of international migration in the scientific community, and helps explain China’s experience in achieving rapid scientific development. Its theoretical framework and methodology may help policymakers in other countries evaluate outflows of their skilled nationals and address related issues effectively.



Emigration, China, Scientist, Brain Drain, Productivity