Expat scientists warn of Spain’s brain drain

Spanish scientists working in Germany have warned that the government's failure to back science in Spain could lead to a permanent exodus of talent as hundreds of researchers marched in protest through Madrid on Friday under the slogan 'Without science there is no future'.

Expat scientists warn of Spain's brain drain
Protestors have claimed that the government is "strangling" scientific research in Spain. Photo: PIERRE-PHILIPPE MARCOU / AFP

Leading Spanish scientists have warned that the failure to support research in Spain could lead to an ongoing “brain-drain cycle” that sees the country’s top talent abandon it to seek funding abroad.

Raúl Delgado-Morales, president of CERFA, the Society for Spanish Scientists in Germany, spoke in an interview of the need for “constant backing” to create “a 20-year science policy” to prevent ex-pat scientists choosing to stay abroad forever, according to Spanish daily 20 Minutos.

CERFA, founded a year ago, is a collection of 360 Spanish scientists in different disciplines.

Like a similar organization of Spanish researchers in the UK, the group was formed to “share experiences, offer help and act as a bridge between Spanish and German institutions.”

Delgado-Morales stated that “The most serious damage is to the confidence of scientists, which has negative repercussions for their return.”

He added: “People are prepared to make sacrifices to return to Spain with their families and friends but it depresses them to see things like the Open Letter for Science.”

The Open Letter was signed by many leading scientists and academics in Spain and requested that research and development budgets be returned to their 2009 levels, from which they have subsequently fallen 40 percent, the creation of research posts, and the creation of a state agency for research.

The official response, a 1.3 percent budget hike, infuriated the scientific community, many of whom who took to the streets in Madrid on Friday to protest.

“I came with the hope that it would go up,” said research professor of the Higher Council for Scientific Research (CSIC) Jesús Ávila, “but a budget increase of 1.3 percent is ridiculous, it's almost nothing. I expected at least a double-digit rise.”

His colleague, José Lucas, told El Pais newspaper: “It’s being bled dry; they’re strangling the scientific system that was created.”

He added: “Future generations have no future and they need us for institutional change.”

Delgado-Morales believes that “investment in research and development leads to an improvement in people’s quality of life.”

“But no-one knows the world-renowned Spanish scientists who are held in extremely high esteem abroad.”

He added that work remained to improve public understanding of the importance of science.

“We haven’t worked out how to connect with the average man in the street.”

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