Winning the talent war

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Winning the talent war

The world is in a war to secure top talent in order to brace for the 21st century. A good example is the Chinese government’s ambitious plan in 2006 to scout 1,000 outstanding Chinese scholars and researchers from the top 100 universities and institutes around the world and use their expertise in 100 fields of science and technology. The Chinese government lured them back by providing hefty financial assistance, including attractive salaries and housing subsidies. China’s remarkable success in developing the Jian-20 stealth fighter jet was made possible thanks to the government’s aggressive efforts to attract manpower from overseas.

China’s State Administration of Foreign Affairs Experts is not only staging conferences to organize and implement the government’s key plans for employing overseas experts, but also maintains a close relationship with international head-hunting companies. It seeks to turn China from a manufacturing country into a creative one. The bureau is confident that about 100,000 Chinese scholars currently living in the U.S. will return to their homeland by 2014. China’s emergence is a “black hole” for the world’s top talent. Its ascent to the G-2 also owes much to the government’s unwavering efforts to bring back its internationally accredited nationals.

In contrast, our government had to suspend its touted “Brain Pool” project - initiated in 1993 to lure top Korean experts living overseas back to their motherland - after the number of voluntary returnees increased drastically.

Brain Korea 21, a governmental project aimed at creating world-class graduate schools in Korea by 2012, has not fared well. It is now under fire for having squandered 3.3 trillion won ($2.97 billion) over the past 14 years.

As a result, Korea is still ranked 48th among 61 countries in terms of the “brain drain index,” with only three out of 10 scholars with U.S. doctoral degrees choosing to return and with foreign scholars making up a mere 3.75 percent of the nation’s teaching staff. Such dire reality comes primarily from unsatisfactory work environments.

It is naive for the government to assume that these people will return to Korea.

The government must find ways to attract intelligent people from overseas. France decided to shift away from its notorious standardized education system to bolster its competitiveness, and Japan has plans to attract 300,000 foreign students to the country.

Our future depends on whether we can win the war for top talent.

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