Global News Blog: Gone for Good? Expatriates of French Higher Education in the United States

November 30, 2010 by · Comments Off 

Posted by Lucie Leon

This is the title of a recently published report by an independent study group. The report shows that academics are increasingly leaving France for the United States, which carries the risk of a “brain drain” in France.

Up until now, the French regretted the lack of mobility among young French people. The report, by the Institut Montaigne, a leading independent research group in Paris, found that the situation is changing, and 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.

But the acceleration of French scientific emigration to the United States is worrisome because the young French people who spend one year in the United States during their studies tend to like it and stay. Worse, these departures would mainly concern the best researchers, who are more inclined than the others to make use of the conditions in the U.S. which they do not find in France.

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. 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.

Also, 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. In a country where science is often viewed as cut-off from society, French universities do little to glorify their researchers and offer working conditions that are often mediocre.

Biology and economics are poorly recognized in France but the problem also comes from the fact that the French labor market doesn’t value Ph.D. theses. That’s the reason why many of France’s best biologists and economists can now be found in the United States.

The Institut Montaigne study concluded that, for the most talented French economics and biologists students, studies in the United States are an “obligatory step” toward a doctorate.