Brain Drain in China? The Future Looks Better than the Past – Regardless of Incentives

A recent article in The Guardian highlights the growing concern in China over the increasing numbers of Chinese students who are not only going abroad to study, but more significantly, staying overseas after graduation. Living and working in China, one becomes very familiar with the discrepancies in quality between a Chinese education and a Western education as well as the almost superstar status that many young Chinese feel they deserve after having returned from studies overseas. As such, it is not surprising that with the rapidly increasing number of students who are financially capable of going abroad, more and more are choosing to do so.

It is not this movement to study abroad that is concerning the government though, but rather the fact 7 out of 10 students are never coming back to China with their enhanced abilities to contribute to the country’s growth. Many of the students polled for this article stated that they would likely spend several years overseas because of the competitive job market in China in addition to the fact that overseas work experience opens up many more opportunities. Some said that they plan to come back eventually, others weren’t so sure – it depends on where the opportunities are.

It is not surprising that many Chinese students who left in the 80s and 90s did not return – the differences with regards to both opportunity and quality of life back then were so much more salient. Today though, the opportunities that a Western educated Chinese with several years of Western work experience has are immense. Not only do they have the Western ability to think creatively and to differentiate their work from peers and competitors (even when it does require taking risks) but they also have language skills and an inherent understanding of China that few expats can claim. If one looks at the senior management of many of the top MNCs in China, especially in technology and telecommunications, one finds a heavy emphasis on returning overseas Chinese.

This level of opportunity, in itself, should serve to dramatically increase the number of overseas Chinese who decide to return home. Perhaps part of this crisis over the “brain drain” is that many of these returnees are coming back with MNCs as opposed to developing their careers in domestic companies.

Sources:
http://www.guardian.co.uk/china/story/0,,2093739,00.html

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