Eastern Europe's talent no longer flows one way

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Twenty years ago this month, the Berlin Wall fell.

Eastern Europe saw a flight of scientific talent to Western countries, where graduate education, research facilities, opportunities and salaries far exceeded those in the post-communist countries.

Science in the former communist countries was aimed solely at national defense work while commercial applications were ignored.

As a result, basic math and science education was especially strong. Yet within the former communist countries there was zero experience of applying those skills in business and little understanding of the commercial world.

Things have changed. Now in the European Union, the former East Bloc states have evolved to a level that entices their migrant scientists to return home.

The journal Science reports on three young scientists who returned to their respective countries in the Czech Republic, Poland and Hungary.
One Polish researcher who returned home remarked: "Looking at my friends who stayed in the States, both Americans and non-Americans, I don't see many differences actually in the possibilities. So, of course there are differences, but they come mostly from the individuals and the way they do science. [The differences are] not coming from the environment anymore."

In Russia, the situation is different, according to reports.

The Russian Academy of Sciences, the core of the country's basic scientific research, is losing researchers to institutions abroad and businesses.

Russia has lost 200,000 scientists and researchers to other countries since the Berlin Wall fell 20 years ago, according to unofficial estimates.

A salary differential of 5X between US and Russian scientists is part of the problem. In addition, research funding has dried up to the level of science budgets in developing countries, according to one analyst.

Younger Russian researchers who have worked abroad point to "ineffective management by the upper reaches of the Russian Academy of Science and the bureaucratization of the scientific process."

Scholars at the Academy have warned that an increase in funding over the next 5-7 years is essential or Russia "will have to forget about plans for the construction of an innovation-based economy."

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This page contains a single entry by Richard K. Wallace published on November 6, 2009 11:44 AM.

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