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National origin of PhDs and international mobility

Laudeline Auriol, OECD Administrator

At a time when the press is talking about brain drain, an OECD survey provides statistics on the international mobility of doctorate holders in seven countries.

In Germany, Argentina, Australia, Canada, the United States, Portugal and Switzerland, are PhDs all equally mobile? Is it possible to distinguish two poles of attraction: educating countries and employing countries? Three countries stand out by an average proportion of doctorate holders born abroad that exceeds 40%: Australia, Canada and Switzerland. Some of these PhDs were trained for research in these countries or migrated after their PhD. Switzerland is known for being a country that hosts the highest rate of foreign students. And so it seems both to train young foreign researchers and to host foreign PhDs trained abroad as well.

The attraction of the United States
It may seem surprising not to see the United States appear as a front runner. Yet this country is known as a major pole of attraction for young scientists. This is true in absolute figures. Moreover, 26% of its PhDs were born abroad and 43% of the PhDs who are foreign citizens received their doctorate abroad. And there are many foreign PhDs who come to work in the United States after having been trained for research outside the United States. This trend is confirmed in the reasons foreign PhDs give for coming to the United States. The opportunities offered by the American educational system have become less decisive than in the past. Job opportunities and economic opportunities as well as US scientific and professional infrastructures now weigh more in the balance as motives for migration. In short, people come to United States less for their education than to find a job.

Stay in the country or go home
The proportion of a country's citizens who received a doctorate abroad varies considerably. While it is very low in the United States (5%), it reaches 10% in Portugal and 19% in Argentina. US citizens don't seem very mobile and have no intention of becoming so: only 5% of the young American PhDs plan to go abroad, compared to 15% of young Canadians and Portuguese. On the other hand, 40% of the foreign PhDs in Canada and the United States plan to leave within the next two years. Where to? In the United States, the destinations of doctorate holders differ depending on whether they are US citizens or foreign citizens. About half the American citizens opt for Europe and 20% for Asia. The choices of foreign PhDs on the other hand reflect their national origin to a certain extent: 50% choose Asia and 16% Europe.