Since the 1990s, China has launched various programs to reverse brain drain. Economic growth and political stability favored the process, but government policies and competition between provinces to keep the highest-level talent have also been decisive factors in driving this return. In 2016, according to data from the Ministry of Education, 544,500 people went to study outside of China, and in the same year, 432,500 returned to the country.
One of the best known projects is the “Plan of a thousand talents”, launched in 2008 with the aim of identifying and achieving the return of outstanding academics and professionals. “We have to support people going to study abroad, but even more so if their return to China is possible,” President Xi Jinping said in this regard in 2013. Participating in this program are the Organization Department of the Communist Party of China (the body that appoints the highest positions in training), six ministries (Education, Human Resources, Science and Technology, Industry and Information Technology, Foreign Affairs and Security Public), the commission that regulates the largest state companies in the country and even the Central Bank.
This newspaper contacted several of these agencies to find out what resources they have and the methods they use to bring these high-profile students back, but they declined to comment. Nor from the Association of Returned Academics of the West – many of whose members have benefited from the program – have wanted to talk about these incentives.
However, several Chinese PhD students at the best universities in the world – who asked not to be identified – admit having received offers from state companies, universities or even municipal governments that are difficult to reject: astronomical salaries, residence permits in any of the main cities of the country, tax breaks or aid for housing and for the schooling of children are some of the hooks launched. “They even offered me a job for my wife,” says a Chinese engineer who has just completed a doctorate at one of the best UK universities. Some of them have decided to go home, but not only because of the conditions: “Obviously there are clear disadvantages such as pollution or the lack of freedom in what areas; but in my field, quantum physics, there is no color: the best research He’s here, “says another recent doctorate from a prestigious United States university who now lives in Beijing.
For his part, Yang (who chooses to identify himself only by his last name) has worked closely with Jiangsu province officials for several years to encourage the return of Chinese talent to his region. “I organized trips to Spain, Italy, Russia, Sweden, Finland, the United States, Australia, New Zealand, … Many Chinese students and academics abroad do not know about these policies and it is good to make them known by holding events there wherever they are, “he says. The delegation then invites those interested to Nanjing (capital of the province) to see facilities such as incubators for startups or newly established business districts. Yang boasts that this program has achieved the return of 120 people, 70 of whom have founded companies.
Chinese student associations at foreign universities are the government’s main channel of access to emigrated talent, Yang and contacted students explain. But not everyone thinks about the possibility of succumbing to temptation: another student in the United States, with a PhD in Economics, claims to have received constant offers from Chinese universities or technology companies through these groups. “Some of my friends have returned or plan to do so after a few years of experience in the United States. I get many recruitment emails from China, but in my case I feel more integrated and more comfortable living in Western society,” she explains.