Chinese researchers returning home in greater numbers – Physics World


No place like home: A study has found that the number of Chinese researchers who return home doubled between 2010 and 2017. (Courtesy: iStock/danielvfung)

About 80% of Chinese scientists who have gone abroad to study or work in the previous decade have returned home and are now publishing high-impact, collaborative research. That is according to an analysis by scientists in China, Europe and the US who found that the lure of attractive initiatives such as the Thousand Talent programmes is helping to foster China’s rise as a global scientific powerhouse.

As more researchers return home, the rise [of China] is going to continue

Caroline Wagner

The study used Elsevier’s journal database to search for authors who first published in China, then moved to another country before returning home. The team found that more than 4500 and 2300 Chinese researchers had left the US and Europe, respectively, to return to China in 2017 – roughly double the number seen in 2010 (Science and Public Policy scz056). The study also found that while more Chinese researchers moved to the US than Europe, a greater number went back to China from Europe than from the US. For every returnee from the US, about 1.4 overseas Chinese scientists stayed in the country – a ratio that was 1 to 0.9 for Europe.

Robust growth

A previous study found that between 1978 and 2007, more than 1.2 million Chinese went abroad to study or work but only about 25% returned (Asian Population Studies 4 331). In the following decade, however, according to the current study that return rate is 80%. The authors say this is partly due to the boost in research spending thanks to robust economic growth in China over the past couple of decades. “The pattern is expected, but the scope and scale of China’s rise is gigantic,” Caroline Wagner from Ohio State University who was involved with the study told Physics World. “As more researchers return home, the rise [of China] is going to continue.”

One of those who went to the US only to return is astrophysicist Lijun Gou from the National Astronomical Observatories in Beijing. Gou says he chose to return to China and start his own group via the Thousand Talent programme. “The years abroad gave me international perspectives and confidence, but I’m glad I made the choice so I can use my expertise [at home],” he says.

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