Friday, November 26, 2010

France's Brain Drain: "The notion of competition, the acceptance of competition is more in harmony with the American culture than the French one"

Academics are increasingly leaving France for the United States, which carries the risk of a “brain drain” in France, according to a report this month by an independent study group.
Thus starts Maïa de la Baume's article in the International Herald Tribune, which points out that many French scientists say that the "French lifestyle, which puts a higher value on quality of living and less emphasis on competition and getting ahead, is no longer sufficient to keep talented researchers in France".
The report, by the Institut Montaigne, a leading independent research group in Paris, found that academics constitute a much larger percentage of French émigrés to the United States today than 30 years ago. According to the report, between 1971 and 1980, academics represented just 8 percent of the departing population; between 1996 and 2006, they represented 27 percent of the departing population.

“The acceleration of French scientific emigration to the United States is recent and worrisome,” said the report, called “Gone for good? The expatriates of French higher education in the United States.”

… The number of French scientists who leave France for the United States remains limited, but the exodus of the country’s most talented scientists could hurt the economy, the report suggested.

“Those who leave France are the best, the most prolific and the best integrated on an international scale,” said the report, which surveyed about a hundred French researchers and professors who studied in France’s top universities and elite schools like the École Normale Supérieure and the École Polytechnique.

… “The notion of competition, the acceptance of competition is more in harmony with the American culture than the French and Latin one,” … said Gérard Karsenty, a professor of genetics and and development at Columbia University in New York.

… The brain drain in French academia has been observed in other arenas, as well. The field of musical composition, for example has been hurt by the trend, and composers are few, training offers scarce and jobs rare. “We are in the process of killing contemporary music in France,” said an unidentified composer cited in the report.

Today, many French academics working in the United States say their choice to leave their country was largely motivated by an American system “where universities are larger, richer and more flexible than in France,” said … Thomas Philippon, a French economist who began teaching finance at New York University Stern School of Business in 2003.

… Upon moving to France after nine years in the United States, [said Rava da Silveira, a physicist who teaches neuroscience at the École Normale Supérieure and collaborates with researchers at Princeton, Harvard, and Stanford], his salary was cut by about two-thirds.

Like many other researchers, he agreed that the rigidity of the French higher education system and a lack of financing, infrastructure and administrative help have prevented France’s scientific talents from reaching their full potential in France.