Collaboration is important for those wanting to keep up with Chinese science

China is one of the world’s fastest growing economies. It is also becoming a major player in chemistry research. Since the end of the Cultural Revolution in 1976, Chinese universities have developed enormously. Science and engineering education is considered to be important and in the 1990s, as industry was booming, China realised that it needed to develop its domestic research to keep up with the rest of the world.

The government has lavished money on this quest. It has reformed the education system and has set about creating 100 top universities. These are now producing internationally recognised research and researchers.

This can be demonstrated in the number of Chinese papers now being published in high impact, peer reviewed, international journals. The number of Chinese papers submitted to the RSC’s journals has increased from a few hundred in 1995 to over 20 per cent of total submissions now.

The Chinese government is continuing to pump funding into universities and research output will carry on growing in volume and importance.

Science in the UK and Europe has also benefited from China’s investment in education. The goal of many Chinese students has been to work overseas, and companies and universities have been able to take their pick of the best candidates, with many reporting that such students are crucial to their research programmes.

But as China develops, these organisations will have to find other ways to tap into this knowledge and expertise.
China wants to keep its highly trained scientists. A period studying or working overseas is still a high priority for students. It is invaluable for improving employment prospects and is important for exchanging ideas and to experience Western economies and ways of working. But they are now more likely to return to China after a short spell overseas. 

There are considerable opportunities for scientists in China in both industry and academia and salaries are attractive.
China’s gain will be the US and Europe’s loss. With fewer of China’s brightest scientists staying overseas, industrial and academic collaboration with China will become increasingly important.

This collaboration will also help China. In the past, working with overseas partners furthered the country’s science faster than China could have done alone. In the future, it could help China address its environmental problems. The UK has not traditionally been a major collaborator with China; the US has been more active. 

The UK government has picked up on the opportunity and the British Council has established a year-long UK-China partners in science campaign, running during 2005, to strengthen links between the two countries. With China’s desire to develop rapidly, they should be pushing at an open door.

With China’s science base growing fast, establishing collaborations is a priority to ensure we are not left behind.

Karen Harries-Rees, editor