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1 Aug, 2013

China struggles to retain talent


NANNING (Xinhua) 2013-07-30 – China’s continued loss of talented individuals is being widely discussed following a report from the University of Hong Kong (HKU) indicating that a record number of Chinese mainland students have applied to the university.

The university said in a July report that a record 12,000 students from the mainland have applied to the university so far this year.

Survey results issued by the China Alumni Network in June showed that nearly 60 percent of students who received a high score at the National College Entrance Examination (NCEE) plan to obtain higher degrees overseas after finishing their bachelor’s degrees in China.

Experts and the general public are asking the question: Is China losing in a global tug-of-war for future talents?

Overseas opportunities

Huang Bin, 26, is set to fly to Florida to receive a doctorate in bio-pharmacy. “This is a one-way ticket and I will not come back,” said Huang, who was recently hired by a medical company in the United States.

Huang is one of an increasing number of talented people who China is losing, according to the Central Coordination Group for Talent Work (CCGTW) under the Communist Party of China (CPC) Central Committee.

Official statistics from the CCGTW indicate that while China currently has the largest labor pool, it also suffers from “brain drain” more than any other country.

A staggering 87 percent of China’s scientists and engineers are choosing to stay abroad rather than work in China, according to the CCGTW.

Wang Huiyao, director of the Center for China & Globalization, a non-governmental organization focusing on China-related issues in globalization, said the current outflow of talents is similar to that seen in the 1980s and 1990s, although the reasons people are citing for leaving are becoming more diverse.

“For instance, there are more investors and entrepreneurs who are emigrating from China now than there were two decades ago, taking with them a large amount of money,” Wang said.

According to the 2013 China Private Wealth Report, which was jointly compiled by China Merchants Bank and Bain Capital in May, China is home to over 840,000 people with more than 10 million yuan ($1.6 million) in investable assets. About 60 percent of those surveyed have completed or are considering immigration, the report showed.

“In Silicon Valley, 35 percent of chief technology officers and laboratory directors are from China,” said Wang.

For talents from the Chinese mainland, opportunities to tap one’s potential to the fullest are more important than how much money one can make.

“I worked as a college professor and technician at a Beijing-based scientific and technical corporation, but I felt my career path was dim,” said Li Cheng, a computer science engineer who went abroad after working five years at home.

In addition, support for scientific research at universities, as well as research and development in enterprises, is scarce compared to that in developed countries, said Sun Hongcan, a government official from south China’s Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region.

“Talented people want to achieve, but they do not have a team here to back them up,” said Sun.

Brain drain

Wang said the current outflow of talents is having a negative impact on economic growth, as the outflowing talents are not only taking away large sums of money, but also their creativity, which has been seen as necessary for China’s future development.

China ranked 34th among 141 countries and regions in the 2012 Global Innovation Index published by the World Intellectual Property Organization. The lack of talents will also hinder trade with foreign countries, said Lin Guan, president of Guangxi Investment Group Co Ltd.

Lin said it is hard to start business programs in Guangxi because there are not enough local talent resources in the finance, trade and export fields, which makes it hard to do business with ASEAN member countries.

The 2013 China Private Wealth Report showed that a large number of entrepreneurs are leaving China as well, said Huang Zhiyong, deputy dean of the Guangxi Academy of Social Sciences. “With entrepreneurs going leaving and a lack of new incoming foreign investors, China’s employment will take a big hit,” he said.

Although the government is using multiple programs and favorable polices to lure domestic talents back, experts said the measures are not ideal.

“Most of those who come back are going to colleges and research institutions instead of companies, so they are not necessarily helping the economy,” said Yuan Chiping, deputy director of the Center for Studies of Hong Kong, Macao and the Pearl River Delta at Sun Yat-sen University.

Chinese universities have comparatively high requirements in regards to how many thesis publications researchers must write. Those who fail to meet the requirements are expelled. This pressure inevitably scares some returning talents away, Yuan said.

The government’s efforts are focused too much on material conditions such as housing and salaries while largely ignoring the support facilities and good research environment that have led more talents to other countries, Yuan said.

At a time when more talented people are flowing outside, experts said China needs to make a strategic change to lure them back. Wang said the government should work with enterprises and NGOs to bring in more talents, adding that head-hunting agencies should be set up in foreign countries in order to locate talents.

Yuan said higher learning institutions in China should be more flexible when it comes to the number of theses their researchers must publish, as this will allow researchers to conduct their research more attentively.

He said that China should enhance the protection of intellectual property rights to encourage more innovation, rather than allowing counterfeit products to thrive.

A long-term mechanism should be established where laws and regulations are in place, innovation is encouraged and the environment for starting businesses is suitable, Yuan said.

“Such a mechanism will help China retain talented people and contribute to its future development,” he added.