China was for a long time known as a country, that copies technology from more developed societies and wins markets by lower production costs. That worked well for a long time, but more recently China has put a huge effort to become a developed - science-based - producer of high technology and entrepreneurship.
In order to have well educated working power, China has allowed - and even encouraged - students to move overseas. Thereafter the Chinese government launched a program to recruit and nurture high-caliber, early-career expatriate scientists who return to China.
A recent study examined how effective the program has been, and how well it has supported the young scholars’ productivity when they returned to China. The comparison was made to their peers that remained overseas.
The investigation found that the scholars outperformed overseas peers in last-authored publications - typically showing the leading position among the authors - because of greater access to larger research teams and better research funding in China. However, although the returning scientists were generally of high caliber in research they fell below the top category in pre-return scientific productivity.
Taken together, the study has important implications for global academic mobility and international competition between East and West.
The Chinese students form a large share of the US and EU PhD graduates and are among the most productive one. And in the future China probably continues to invest in higher education and academic talent, which results in more and more Western-trained Chinese students returning to China, because their universities can be expected to become more attractive locations for Chinese students with poor future options in Western countries. That will bring huge support to Chinese research and innovation, and ultimately narrow the technological gap between China and Western countries.