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Roll out the red carpet, say expat researchers

German government efforts to bring home researchers working abroad will fail because the academic system is not sufficiently attractive, expatriate scientists have said in an open letter.

Responding to President Christian Wulff’s call to talented scientists to return home, the German Scholars Organisation said Germany first needed improvements.

The GSO, which represents German scientists and lecturers, said structural problems with German higher education prevented scientists from shaping a career in the country.

Top of the list, said the GSO, was the lack of junior professor posts with long-term career perspectives.

Scientists who signed the 29 July letter slammed the lack of career flexibility and security in Germany’s higher education system, and said that post-doc jobs in the US, for example, were easier to obtain, better paid and had long-term career prospects.

“Germany will only remain internationally competitive if it improves its framework to be an attractive research location,” the letter stated. The three factors defining an attractive research destination were described as career structure, welcome culture and information flow.

The letter criticised the handling of information about research funds in Germany, saying that it was often unclear to researchers how long funds would last, and how projects would subsequently be taken forward.

Signatories also highlighted lack of cooperation between scientific institutions. They said spontaneous, short-term collaboration between researchers was nearly impossible in Germany.

They recommended that Germany’s research system should become more international and welcoming. Rather than simply hoping for Germans abroad to return, the government should recruit internationally from the best universities.

The scientists described the government’s strategy of asking “attitude questions” from internationals to prepare them for life in Germany as “impersonal”, and said the policy acted as a deterrent to international talent.

“Applicants in the US, however, will be cared for, and the red carpet will be rolled out for them,” the scientists said.