14 November 2009

Brain drain again?

There's an interesting piece in today's Daily Telegraph claiming that the brain drain from the UK to the USA is getting out of hand and that our universities need more money to help them stem the tide.

It brought back a couple of memories from my former life that make me wonder whether American academic salaries and working conditions really are any more tempting than they were 25 years ago.

In 1984, I spent a semester as a visiting professor at an American university, where I was paid per week exactly the same as I was paid per month (at the top of the readership scale) in Oxford - and I only had to teach for three hours a week.

After Margaret Thatcher had been prime minister for about ten years, I also remember being stunned by a press report claiming that the number of British academics who had migrated to the North America since she had come to power was greater than the number of Jewish intellectuals who had fled in the same direction from Nazi Germany during the 1930s.

It's too long ago for me to be able to recall which newspaper published the story, or how they'd worked out the numbers.

But I haven't forgotten getting the point into one of Paddy Ashdown's leadership speeches at a Liberal Democrat conference - where it produced a collective gasp and fulsome burst of applause from the audience.


Ross J Warren said...

It sounds to b. a little as if the truth is academics are rather over paid in the US, to be harsh. Sadly this story is far to often true, and many well qualified people are tempted out of the UK by lucrative deals abroad. In our turn we grab all of the best available talent from India , South Africa and other states. These people are of course missed from their home nations. This applies more in the NHS than in Oxford university, I imagine. The impact on these nations is greater than the loss here, as far as I am concerned, and in fact this raises a couple of obvious and not it seems unfounded, criticisms of the lofty high brows, and the fortunes of the nation. Should we not be willing to forgo some of the potential rewards in favour of doing what is clearly our duty, and investing our talents in the National good ,and the welfare of this once and future Great Nation?

Max Atkinson said...

I'm sure you're right that the damage of the brain drain towards the UK from developing economies is far more damaging to them than the drain from here to the USA is to the UK.

But I hope you're not implying that I'm a 'lofty high brow', as I left Oxford more than 20 years ago to go freelance, since when I've managed to make a living by showing people and writing about the results of research that might originally have had 'lofty' and 'high brow' aims - but turned out to have some rather simple, useful and very practical implications from which anyone who wants to become a better public speaker can benefit (very quickly!).

Ross J Warren said...

Certainly not Max, I was rather poking fun at a friend of mine; who attended Oxford some considerable time ago. Sorry I suppose I should have made that clear.