ASEE PRISM - October 2000
briefings
Brain Drain in Britain
International

LONDON--There is a fear within the United Kingdom that many of its best and brightest scientists have left for greener pastures overseas, or are considering making a move. The so-called "brain drain" could harm Britain's efforts to mimic the U.S. and take commercial advantage of its myriad academic resources, the Labor government believes.

To buck that trend, the Department of Trade and Industry has teamed with a research charity, the Wolfson Foundation, to establish an annual $6 million fund to boost the salaries of top scientists and researchers--and perhaps woo back some of those who have gone abroad. The fund will be administered by the Royal Society, Britain's science academy, which will help select candidates for the stipends. Some academics could see their salaries boosted by as much as $150,000 a year.

"There is a huge disparity in remuneration between American and British academics," says a spokeswoman for the Committee on Vice Chancellors and Principals, a higher education lobby group. Full professors here earn minimum salaries of $52,500 to $60,000, while lower-ranked researchers earn minimum salaries of just $25,500 to $33,000. While the Royal Society welcomed the fund, it repeated its call for the government "to make a strong commitment to improving academic pay and conditions at all stages in a research career."

So, just how many scientists have fled the U.K. for better opportunities elsewhere? The DTI and the Royal Society admit they don't know. "It's more of a perception, really," a government spokesman says. But it's one so damning that Whitehall thinks its worth spending a few million to rectify.

Stakes are High for Yale's New Dean

photograph courtesy of Ya;e University"Engineering. It's about dealing with life," says Paul Fleury, the new dean of the School of Engineering at Yale University. "If you're a good engineer, you have the ability to be good at anything else." That may sound a bit pedantic, but he says it with such passion and gusto that you go for it anyway. And with the university committing to a $500 million investment in its buildings and programs to ensure over the next decade that Yale's science and engineering efforts are world-class, that combination could be just what the engineering school desperately needs.

Fleury will take up his position this fall from his current post as dean of engineering at the University of New Mexico. He'll replace Dr. Allan Bromley--President George Bush's former science advisor--who resigned in June. Fleury's background is in physics, with a bachelor's and a master's of science from John Carroll University, and a doctorate from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. He also served a stint at Oxford University as a senior researcher, and 30 years at AT&T Bell Laboratories researching everything from solid state chemistry and physics to organic and inorganic materials synthesis, and much more.

The father of three grown daughters, Fleury, 61, is a self- described outdoor enthusiast who loves to hike and ski with his wife, whom he met during his college days at John Carroll. He is a real catch for Yale and promises to give a much-needed jolt to the university's wavering engineering department. From time to time, the department has been rumored to be on the edge of closing its doors due to a lack of attention and interest from the higher-ups who have cottoned to the notion that a liberal arts education is the core strength of the university. But the engineering department's fortunes have taken a turn for the better, thanks to the influx of money and the appointment of Fleury.photograph courtesy of Yale University

Fleury is not really an academic kind of guy, although by all accounts he's a good one; he's primarily a man who loves to do research and solve problems. He signed on as dean at New Mexico five years ago after his time at Bell Laboratories in New Jersey, and as a member of both the National Academy of Engineering and the National Academy of Sciences, he brings a distinguished background to Yale's department. Put simply, he is respected in the field and capable of ratcheting up this department in an even, systematic manner.

Although the Yale program is about one-third the size of the New Mexico engineering department, Fleury understands that it is an opportunity to be part of a program on the rise. "You can't compare the two places," he says. "At Yale, I will have about half the faculty I have in New Mexico, but the university has made a genuine commitment to the engineering department, and it will grow quickly." The half billion dollar plan calls for a new facility to house parts of Yale's new programs, and renovations of existing facilities. The design and construction of the new engineering and applied sciences facility will be supported by a $24 million gift from John Malone, the chairman of Liberty Media Corporation, who earned his engineering degree from Yale in 1963.photo courtesy of Yale University

For the past thirty years, Yale's engineering department has languished and many thought that it had vanished altogether with a meager 23 undergraduates last year and only 15 master's degrees and 17 doctorates. But there's no question that things seem to be changing in the new millennium. Fleury is chomping at the bit to make that a reality. The program wasn't dead, he says, "It just wasn't very visible and didn't have the perception of excellence that it really must have."

His immediate goals are to focus on the areas of bioengineering and environmental engineering, increase significantly the number of undergraduates pursuing engineering degrees, and shoot for at least 25 Ph.D.'s. "The first time I visited the Yale campus I thought that my mind would explode", he recalls. "There were so many options for students to choose between. My goal is for engineering to be top-of-mind--the study of choice, period."

Fleury admits that he will have to invent the program as he goes along, but he is bursting with confidence. His mission: "In less than 10 years, I want to get the message out to students that engineering is a way to learn about solving problems. It's been underappreciated for many years, but it's the future, believe me."

Quotable

"The principal weakness of the current approach is that the weights used to combine various measures into an overall rating lack any defensible empirical or theoretical basis."

     ---Major finding of a U.S. News & World Report-commisioned study on ranking methodology, reported in the September issue of the Washington Monthly.
    To read a related article, plus the entire report, see
    www.washingtonmonthly.com.

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