26 March 2014

Can Colombia reverse the brain drain of its scientists?

by Enrique Angarita

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In Colombia the lack of opportunities for scientists has been a fact for a long time. For almost a century, Colombian scientists seeking opportunities have traveled to other countries that allow them to develop their studies and make scientific advances—things their countries of origin have denied them.

It’s a story that repeats itself in most developing countries: scientists leave for developed countries where they can germinate ideas, propose solutions and make contributions to science. The leading reason for this brain drain? A lack of serious development in the scientific communities of these home countries. Many scientists feel concerned that there are no opportunities in their home countries and end up being part of a community that welcomes—with technological resources to develop their research—these scientists who are forced to adapt and live with a new culture and preserve nostalgia for their homeland.

 

Nearly 200 scientists can receive on average annual salary of US$43,000 to return to Colombia and work at public or private research institutions.

 

On March 18, Paula Marcela Arias, the general director of Colombia’s agency for science, technology and innovation Colciencias, published Resolution 00208 of 2014: known colloquially as “It’s time to come back.” The measure is a policy aimed at attracting the hundreds of Colombian scientists that are working in other countries, and allow these researchers–including doctors trained abroad—to return to Colombian universities, research centers, technology development centers and companies with postdoctoral positions. With an investment of US$8.6 million, nearly 200 scientists can receive on average annual salary of US$43,000 to return to Colombia and work at public or private research institutions.

The research policy in Colombia is changing and is approaching the world standard in research. Indeed, legislation has been linked to another state agency—INVIMA—which has proposed to monitor the Good Clinical Practices in pharmaceutical research in humans.

However, for many skeptics, the measure taken by the Colombian government to bolster domestic scientific activity is a policy that suffers from the same mechanisms that are susceptible to corrupt political interests. Another aspect being criticized refers to how insufficient the economic stimulus to attract scientists back to the country seems to be, since a comparable stimulus from the government of the United States pays a salary of $43,500 to a GS-7 scientist (recent graduate) and $85,500 annually for a GS-13 official, according to official NIH tables from 2011.

The nostalgia for one’s homeland may have an added value and many scientists may heed the call. What is quite certain is that there are still many steps on the way to a successful career in science in Colombia.

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Enrique Angarita is an anesthesiologist in Medellin, Colombia. He is currently the coordinator of Colombia’s Anesthesiology Research Group, where he oversees various avenues of scientific research and advises on the training of new researchers. Follow him on Twitter at @enriqueangarita.