The region tries to compensate for the flight of local researchers by contracting out public aid to brilliant outsiders. The problem is how to retain them in an ultracompetitive sector. For a country like Spain, subject to a constant flight of scientists and with research as a pending issue, it may be shocking that public funds are used to recruit foreign talent. However, that is the basis of excellence, for which there are no boundaries.
Examples of this are the new Beatriz Galindo grants from the central government, with a minimum amount of 90,000 euros per year or aid for attracting research talent abroad launched by the Community of Madrid in 2016, with an allocation of up to 55,000 euros for the salary plus a research bag of 200,000 euros for each project. They are subsidies coveted by Madrid’s universities because they allow them to supplement their limited funds to hire renowned scientists with whom they negotiate high salaries. These same aids are serving to return emigrated Spanish researchers. In the first two calls for regional aid, 109 Spaniards and 29 foreigners were recruited.
The arrival in Spain of foreign scientists is a sign that science has become globalized. The migration of scientists has transformed research centers around the world that until the ’80s were essentially taken over by nationals, according to a study by the journal Nature. In this new context, the countries with the most advanced research systems and endowed with resources will be the ones that stand out.
There are no figures on how many arrive but the central government says that it intends to count them as part of its scientific diplomacy efforts. Probably the inputs do not compensate the outputs, according to the sources consulted. Despite the signings of promises and stars, many foreign scientists settle in Madrid for personal reasons such as having a Spanish partner. The rigidity of the university closes the doors to foreigners according to experts, but the creation in 2007 of the Madrid Institutes of Advanced Studies (IMDEA) has facilitated the arrival of many foreign researchers. These organisms were created by the Community of Madrid within their competences and are equivalent to the state network of the Superior Council of Scientific Investigations (CSIC). Until two decades ago, scientists from outside used to arrive with isolated efforts from universities or CSIC centers. The first great impulse of the administrations dates from 2001 when the state program Ramón y Cajal was born so that the universities could co-finance the salary with an amount of 38,000 euros per year. At the regional level, the Generalitat of Catalonia led during the same years the efforts to attract talent from abroad.
The Catalan Government highlights the success of its own network of 40 centers, the CERCA, and launched in 2005, as well as its pioneering initiative to hire professors from outside the region, launched in 2001 by the ICREA Foundation, the Catalan Institution of Research and Advanced Studies.
Unlike aid in Madrid, ICREA guarantees elite researchers a permanent position in Catalan universities and centers. The foundation was designed by the former Minister of Economy Andreu Mas-Colell to overcome the difficulties in hiring personnel presented by the university system
Catalan success is evident in the scholarships of the European Research Council (ERC), the great Dorado that every European scientist wants to exploit. Created in 2007 by the European Union as the first pan-European funding body for science, its budget in 2017 amounted to 1,800 million euros. The Catalan centers have won 221 of the 462 European scholarships obtained by Spain since the creation of the ERC until July of this year (Madrid has received 141), according to the ERC.
In order to incorporate high-level professors to the university with a fixed position, Madrid is preparing a new program called Echegaray, which according to the Community could be resolved by the end of the year.