I arrived at a China university a few weeks ago just in time to say goodbye to a visiting candidate from Texas A&M University. Another candidate was arriving from France. These are cutting-edge scholars being recruited from around the world. In a move to rapidly expand research capacity, China's Ministry of Education is helping underwrite the costs of recruiting and retaining several thousand of the world’s best experts in university research, banking/finance, and industrial management.
Academic “raiding” is not new. The State University of New York in Stony Brook raided K.U. and other schools in the 1960s, and Texas A&M tried to accumulate potential Nobel Prize winners in the 1980s. Most recently, Arizona State University has been aggressive in hiring top researchers from worldwide. But in this deep recession, even ASU has had to cut back.
China however is going all out. This plan to supercharge its academics was proposed in 2007 and is now seeing its first surge in interviews for positions starting this fall. Only about 70 select universities and China’s elite "211" schools (their top 100+ universities) can apply to the ministry's university section with proposals to expand key research positions. Interviewing is underway with candidates drawn heavily from the US and Europe. While scholars with a Chinese background may have an advantage, China is recruiting from all nationalities. For the first five years, costs for these high paying positions will be split between the national ministry, the provincial government and the host university.
Pulling 2,000 scholars from the West, combined with the general hiring freezes in western
universities and the current scientist migration back to Asia, accelerates the brain drain of our science talent.
In addition, China is encouraging its best graduate students to study abroad in any developed Western country. Again, 4,000 of these top graduates will be chosen from the "211" elite universities and 1,000 more a year from another 70 key institutions. These students will receive about US$20,000 a year support for living expenses. This arrangement does not require any exchange agreement between Chinese and Western universities; they can go anywhere abroad as long as the foreign university or faculty will accept them. Short degree programs of one or two years are without strings attached, but students funded for 36 months or more must sign a contract to return and work in Chinese academia or industry.
In the past, regular Chinese students stayed on after graduating and joined Western research efforts, making up a large portion of our engineering, physics, chemistry and biochemical researchers. However, the proportion of graduates returning to China has dramatically increased, even before the economic slowdown, because of the greater opportunities that exist at home.
Our only program similar in purpose to this is the Fulbright Program, and China’s new initiative dwarfs our efforts. Since 1998, China has built the largest university capacity of any nation in human history. China is now upgrading its professoriate through recruiting the best worldwide, and sending out the best of its next generation for advanced training.
John Richard Schrock trains biology teachers, lives in Emporia, and lectures in China each summer.