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International research mobility not in favour of Germany?

Research mobility causes Germany to lose many of its best academic researchers. A recent report published by the German Commission of Experts for Research and Innovation (Expertenkommission Forschung und Innovation – EFI) shows that German top researchers turn their back on their home country to look for better research opportunities abroad. One third, however, intend to relocate to Germany, offering promising opportunities for return programmes.

Drawing on numbers of publications from the publications database Scopus Custom Data Elsevier and the Source Normalised Impact per Paper (SNIP) factor which determines the ‘quality’ of a journal, and thus researchers, based on the frequency of citations, the report establishes comparative rankings of international research mobility. Switzerland has so far benefited the most of international research mobility – between 1996 and 2011 almost 20 % of publishing researches moved or relocated there, while the German average amounts to 10 %. Interestingly, the US displays an even lower rate with 7.5 % only. These figures stand in relation to the number of outgoing researchers, which in the case of Germany is higher than the rate of incoming researchers, leaving Germany behind with a negative balance which cannot be completely compensated through the impact quality of new and returning researchers.

The Commission of Experts finds similar results when comparing figures concerning researchers and patent applications with 32 000 research innovators leaving the country and 25 000 immigrating or relocating to Germany. In this regard, only India and China are significantly worse off, while again the US and Switzerland draw impressive benefits from research mobility. This is also largely confirmed through an analysis of the share of foreign inventors employed by the top ten enterprises in Germany, the US and Switzerland. While German companies such as chemical company Badische Anilin- und Soda-Fabrik (BASF), Continental Automotive or Siemens display a share of 14.4 %, 8.6 % and 6.4 % of international inventors contributing to patent applications, US and Swiss companies reach shares of up to 50.8 % and 67.6 % respectively.

The Commission of Experts recommends improving conditions for young researchers in Germany in order to attract top researchers from abroad and create incentives for top German researchers to return to their country of origin. There is a need for action concerning research facilities, financial incentives, incompatibility of social security systems and reconciliation of work and family life. The German federal ministry of education and research and many German science organisations, however, argue that Germany has substantially increased its attractiveness in recent years. According to the ministry, measures such as the excellence initiative and the pact for science and innovation have helped to keep and attract qualified German and foreign researchers. According to the report Wissenschaft weltoffen there have been more than 32 000 foreign researchers in Germany. The number of foreign students in the winter semester 2012/2013 is likewise impressive and set a new record with about 205 000 students from abroad. In 2012, 61 % of students declared Germany as their first choice of study destination. Compared to figures from 2009 this is an increase of 14 percent. Newly launched initiatives such as the Postdoctoral Researchers International Mobility Experience (P.R.I.M.E.) project equally contribute to Germany's position as a location for science and research.

In addition to research mobility, the report also deals with a number of topics such as innovation in life sciences, information and communication technologies (ICT) in Germany and gender issues in research and science. An English version report will be available in June.

Commission of Experts for Research and Innovation (in German)

Commission of Experts for Research and Innovation - Report (in German)

Federal Ministry of Education and Research - Press release (in German)