U.K. Unveils "Brain Gain" Initiative

Cambridge, U.K.--A handful of top scientists could soon be paid like royalty to live and work in the United Kingdom. On 26 July, U.K. Trade and Industry minister Stephen Byers announced a $6 million a year program to lure as many as 50 research stars to the country or keep those who otherwise might accept lucrative offers to leave Great Britain.

The initiative is the latest in a series of moves in the past few weeks aimed at buoying up the British scientific community, which experts say has been hemorrhaging talent in recent years. Two weeks ago, the U.K. government announced a $1.7 billion plan to shore up deteriorating facilities and raise stipends for Ph.D. students (Science, 14 July, p. 226), and last week it unveiled a 3-year spending plan that would give science an annual 7% raise. Stemming brain drain is a top priority: The education ministry last week also announced that it will allot an extra $75 million in the budget next year for universities to recruit professors in all fields.

The new program hopes to bring in top minds to exploit these investments. The so-called "Brain Gain" fund will be administered by the Royal Society. Half the money will come from the Department of Trade and Industry, and half from a U.K. charity, the Wolfson Foundation. Details of how the money will be spent are still uncertain, but the plan is that the scientists tapped for the program will be able to use the money flexibly, having the option to hire an additional research assistant or buy equipment if they don't want to use all of it to line their own pockets. Each top-flight scientist could receive enough money to boost their salary to around $150,000 a year, more than double the top salaries that professors now receive from the government.

Rank-and-file scientists welcome the initiative. Scarce resources for salaries "certainly is a problem when we've thought about trying to recruit people from the States," says immunologist Doug Fearon of the University of Cambridge. He was lured from the U.S. 7 years ago by the Wellcome Trust charity, which pays generously by U.K. standards, but efforts to attract another top immunologist to the department from the U.S. have foundered on the salary issue, he says.

It's unclear how great an impact the program will have. Fifty researchers is "less than half a person per university," points out Peter Cotgreave, director of the Save British Science Society. "The real problem is that nobody's paid enough. If you want to keep the best it's not just the top professors you want."

Posted in Europe, Scientific Community