Electron microscopy

China has announced a new five year plan to attract more scientists to the country. The Chinese Academy of Sciences (CAS) says that it will pay for “thousands” of overseas scholars and scientists to come and work in China over the next five years.

The country hopes to scoop 1500 “leading” scientists, accelerating the “100 People” plan, begun in the mid-1990s, which sought to attract 100 top overseas scientists each year. In selecting scientists “practical contributions” will be considered over academic achievements, according to a statement on the CAS website.

Long-term plan

This new drive by the CAS follows the release of new government guidelines that call on state enterprises and academic institutions to attract more overseas scientists, especially those on the cutting edge of science and technology.

“With this new talent project, China expects to break technological bottle-necks and enhance its research abilities and sci-tech levels in the least time,” said the CAS statement.

Over the past decade, the Chinese government has doubled the percentage of its GNP that it spends on research and development, representing a total investment of $140bn. This has led to a large increase in the number of articles by Chinese researchers in academic journals across the globe.

During this time, China has tended to focus investment on specific areas of science where practical applications are likely — such as nanoscience, where it is second only to the US in terms of number of published papers.

China plans to double investment again by 2020 and the latest projects will continue to be “in line with the national strategic developments” by concentrating on “key technology, sci-tech industries and new emerging subjects.”

Despite this scientific boom, one concern is that many young Chinese researchers, after training in China, then leave to apply their skills in the US and Europe.

One of the aims of the 100 People programme has been to attract Chinese scientists home after developing skills in the west. According to the academy, 81% of CAS academicians and 54% CES (Chinese Academy of Engineering) academicians are now returnees, and 72% of leaders of the National Key Projects are scientists returned from abroad.