What’s especially intriguing in [the BIS report] is a new analysis of how researchers flow into and out of the country, done by tracking individual researchers’ publication records. Gone is the old concept of ‘brain drain’ – rather, the emphasis is on ‘brain circulation’. Though 37% of the UK’s 210,923 researchers tracked never seem to have published anything outside the country, a small group of researchers (2.6%) moved out of the UK between 1996-2010 and also returned. What’s more, this group were senior and highly productive, in terms of their research impact."Far from implying the UK ‘loses the best and brightest’ to the US and other countries, this analysis suggests that returnee inflow brings comparatively productive researchers back into the UK (presumably with an extended international network, diverse skills and knowledge) and that returnee outflow (representing the most productive group identified) is high, which may also serve to strengthen the position of the UK abroad through international network-building,” the report says. It also points to the importance of international collaborations: collaborative research is more highly cited, it shows; and in particular, research between the UK and another country always has more impact than the UK’s average.
Emphasis added. This study indicates that migration and greater productivity are positively correlated (holding education constant). In effect, brain drain catalyzes economic development. The UK exports talent and reaps a benefit. This is global talent trade. There is reciprocity for outmigration.
Communities fighting brain drain are chasing smokestacks, waiting for steel to return. Talent retention retards economic development. It undermines the investment in education. Instead of discouraging geographic mobility, the goal should be to increase outmigration and forge stronger links with the talent economy.