The Chinese government has ordered universities in the east of the country not to use talent funding to poach academics from the nation’s mid-west and north east, which is causing an internal brain drain. The ministries of education and finance sought to offer some encouragement to university autonomy in funding management in a notice, but said talent funding “must not be used by institutions in the east,” where cities such as Beijing and Shanghai are located, “to bring in talent from the mid-west and north east regions”.
Previously, in the 2017 version of the notice, institutions were “not encouraged” to do so. The tone became stricter in a 2019 central government missive on promoting science, which aimed to “support the central and western regions to stabilise their talent building”.
“It is difficult to really stop the mobility of talent, because most people want to work or live in ‘better’ cities or colleges and universities,” says Zhang Youliang, associate professor at the Institute of Higher Education at Beijing University of Technology.
A 2018 study examined career mobility among 3,234 junior academics, based on data from the National Science Fund for Distinguished Young Scholars (DYS) between 1994 and 2014. It found that 405 academics proactively changed their workplaces. The provinces of Shanxi, Jilin, Gansu, Liaoning, Fujian and Anhui (mostly in the mid-west and north east) lost more DYS scholars than they brought in. The authors wrote that the “talent crisis” in the north-west and the north east is caused by a “serious talent deficit and insufficient attraction for high-level talent, rather than the scale of outflow”. They concluded that boosting resources for regions suffering outflow would be the best measure in response, and that “hindering” mobility “is not in accordance with the market logic and innovation”