Friday, November 11, 2011

Research Talent Stream Migration

Sticking with yesterday's talent economy theme, there are a number of different streams that define the globalization of talent. Academic researchers comprise one important stream. UK brain circulation:

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.


Monica Thompson said...

While I think there's a strong strain of truth in this blog, this particular entry seems over-reaching to me.

Leaving the UK and returning there doesn't necessarily equate to leaving a U.S. city and then returning.

Variety in life experience certainly bolsters creativity, which is the essential ingredient for economic progress. However, for many American cities, the outmigration occurs naturally. I don't think we need to encourage it through policy.

The point of agreement is that forging good networks to the global talent stream is important for a city. I just fail to see why cheering outmigration is so useful. Why not simply encourage inmigration and outmigration equally?

Jim Russell said...


Thank you for your comments. I agree that encouraging outmigration shouldn't come at the expense of encouraging inmigration. Churn is vital for any community.

I see encouraging outmigration as positively linked to encouraging inmigration. There are a number of reasons for the linage. Suffice to say, we've long known that an outmigration pathway begets an inmigration pathway from the destination community.

Increasing geographic mobility (i.e. encouraging outmigration) is, without a doubt, good for the individual. The most distressed neighborhoods have the lowest rates of outmigration. People are literally stuck in poverty. Success stories from such communities are almost always about someone who managed to get out.

Regardless, the dominant policy right now is to discourage outmigration. That is, without a doubt, harmful to both individual and community. The problem is figuring out how the community might benefit from brain drain. Stream theory is a step in that direction.