Asian universities 'luring back expat academics' from UK

How can the UK stem the post-Brexit loss of highly-qualified scholars and researchers? Professor Max Lu makes recommendations and David Sapsted investigates the implications.

Chinese child holds British flag to illustrate article about Asian scholars and researchers returning to their home lands
The UK is at risk of losing its appeal to expatriate academics and researchers amid rising competition from universities in Asia and greater commercial awareness in the US, according to a new member of the Prime Minister Theresa May’s Council for Science and Technology.Professor Max Lu, president and vice-chancellor of the University of Surrey, said Asian academics were already beginning to leave the UK and return to their home nations, partly because of the fast-rising academic standards in their native countries but also because of the uncertainty surrounding Brexit and the likelihood of a new immigration regime being introduced.

UK risks being left behind by the US and Asia

The way to counter this, Professor Lu said in an interview published in Times Higher Education (THE), was for universities to develop closer partnerships with industry so that research findings could be translated into commercial products.Chinese-born Professor Lu, a chemical engineer and nano-technologist, said the UK was in a “weaker position in terms of the commercialisation of good ideas” than the US.“We don’t have as many high-tech companies as in America and that is a fact,” he said. “We need to learn how we are going to have more partnerships to leverage our strong scientific basis in terms of turning the ideas from bench to bedside – for clinical or laboratory [research] to market.“The stakes are very high. We will be left behind by the rise of Asia. For example, China, India and South East Asian countries are investing so much in science and technology.”Prof Lu told the THE that Asian nations were “increasingly attracting” expatriate researchers back to their home countries. “We are faced with ever-increasing competition for talent. If we don’t focus on these things, it will probably mean we will gradually lose our leading position and our universities will probably weaken in league tables,” he said.
Related news:

UK advised to focus on industrial strategy, increased collaboration

As a member of the 21-strong council that advises Mrs May on strategic science and technology policy, Professor Lu urged the UK to focus on its industrial strategy. “In terms of science and technology policy, we need to first preserve our historical strengths, which is scientific excellence – and that means the talent coming in,” he said.“Secondly, we need to look at how to increase international collaboration so we can get inward investment for commercial exploitation of our research outcomes.”He said the recently-established UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) body, which is bringing all seven of the country's research-funding agencies under one umbrella, had a “key role to play in terms of how to optimise our resources and to leverage funding the government has put on the table to really generate more impact and to really benefit our economy”.Professor Lu said he believed the UKRI had “great potential to facilitate and coordinate the interdisciplinary collaborations across disciplines”, adding that the organisation would make the outcome of research investment “much greater than the sum of all the individual parts”.

Related Articles