Brain drain in Spain, now or better never?

On November 24th the Spanish National Research Council (CSIC), Spain’s largest public research institution, celebrated its 75 anniversary. During the official celebration, special guest King Felipe VI, claimed: “Spain cannot afford to prepare young scientists who travel abroad with no possibility of returning”. One of the reasons for the King’s concern might be the periodically appearing news reporting on the cases where, even brilliant, Spanish scientists left Spain due to the lack of opportunities. Nevertheless, for Emilio Lora-Tamayo, the president of CSIC, the brain drain in Spain is just an “exaggerated urban legend”. Despite all respectable personal opinions and individual cases, scientific community and society would probably appreciate more objective-scientific global data on mobility balance of scientists. According to a study from the Madrid Open University, 73% of young Spanish scientists will probably leave Spain in the next years, while only 14% expects to come back home.

Spanish science system is particularly struggling from the global economic crisis, in both institutional and economic aspects: in 2011 the Ministry of Science was closed down and budgets for research have been drastically reduced in the last years. Actually, only last minute actions saved CSIC from bankruptcy in 2013. Furthermore, scientific permanent positions have dramatically dropped, since retirements are currently covered at circa 10%.

The consequences are that for many, probably too many, young trained Spanish scientist there are no real opportunities to do research in Spain, despite their natural willingness to do so. Therefore, the question, whether brain drain in Spain is already dramatic or not, might be even less relevant than the following: is Spain doing enough to avoid irreversible brain drain in the future?

Guillermo Orts-Gil, Group Coordinator at Max Planck Institute of Colloids and Interfaces, Germany

Víctor Puntés, Research Professor at Institut Català de Nanotecnologia (ICN2), Spain

Guillermo Orts-Gil
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