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Diasporas scientifiques

Rémi Barré
Valeria Hernández
Jean-Baptiste Meyer
et al.

English Version

Synopsis – point three. S&T diasporas and government policy on S&T

Texto completo


  • 1 What we say here about India and China applies equally to other emerging countries in South, East (...)

1There are important lessons to be drawn from the emblematic case of the United States in its relations with Indian and Chinese migrants and their home countries.

2The United States is by far the most popular magnet for the world's young scientists. So much so that this input from the rest of the world is an integral part of the American research model. This human resource input, which consists above all of Indian and Chinese migrants, is so significant in terms of annual volume, duration and quality that it is also becoming an integral feature of the research system in the home countries.

3It is therefore important to see whether those countries have S&T co-operation policies that include support for S&T diasporas, and if so, what form they take and what can be said about them.

The United States

4Decentralised S&T co-operation conducted by people acting in their own interests through partnerships which, on the USA side, involve scientists from the developing countries.

5In the United States, academic co-operation is essentially the work of the universities, the scientific community and the private sector. There is no central institution in charge of national scientific and technical co-operation. The research funding agencies have international co-operation programmes which are set up by the universities and often headed by foreign-born university staff.

6The National Science Foundation (NSF), for example, has an international co-operation programme in micro-electronics called the "Giga-scale system on a chip" programme, in which information science laboratories in several Californian universities, directed by Chinese and Taiwanese migrants, are cooperating with universities in China and Taiwan.

7There are expatriates taking part in projects that that involve their home countries, but they do so through university structures and the projects are funded through a competitive bid process. There are no specific actions addressing the notions of co-development or S&T diasporas as such, but these notions do features as criteria in funding procedures for international co-operative research projects.

The home countries

8Proactive policies aim to ensure that research and higher education institutions benefit from the experience of carefully selected expatriates.


9Only in the early 1990s did the Indian government become aware of the potential of its 20-million-strong diaspora to contribute to the country's development. It set up a High Level Committee on the Indian Diaspora to make recommendations for public policy on the issue, i.e. On organisational means and possible programmes for involving expatriates in the country's social, economic and technical development. The Committee's report to the Prime Minister in January 2002 stressed the diaspora's general willingness to act and the need to help it do so by making a number of reforms and removing the red tape that hampers diaspora initiatives.

10The Committee made a number of recommendations for capitalising on the diaspora's potential. In particular, it recommended building a central database on S&T expatriates, launching high-tech joint ventures, setting up reception arrangements for high-level visitors and Indian post-doctoral researchers in expatriates' laboratories, and creating an entity to stimulate and co-ordinate expatriates' co-operation in technology transfers.

11Taking the same kind of proactive approach, Indian-born computer scientists' enterprises in Silicon Valley have created start-ups in Bangalore, Karnataka. Bangalore, a town with a manufacturing tradition and an abundance of skilled labour, is receptive to relationships with multinationals. Everything has been done to accommodate the expatriate initiatives: infrastructure investments have been made and the technological environment offers innovative entrepreneurs a wealth of facilities.


12The case of China is similar to that of India in many ways. There too the central government has become aware of the value of the S&T diaspora and has set up systematic arrangements for communication and mobilisation. Also, as in India, action has been taken to help local higher education and research centres benefit from the experience of carefully selected expatriates. In this way the S&T diaspora functions as a instrument for bilateral skills circulation, of interest to host country and home country alike.

S&T diasporas closely involved in projects by S&T actors in North and South

13The USA is emblematic in this respect: it benefits from the skills of Indian and Chinese expatriates while the home countries apply policies that enable them to take advantage of their expatriates. The S&T diasporas are present, but mainly in projects initiated by S&T actors. These actors, in host country and home country, are part of the same scientific community and belong to the same kinds of institutions. The S&T diasporas function spontaneously, in accordance with clear professional interests, and there is no need for the USA to introduce any explicit policy towards them.

14In the United States, universities and university research teams are independent agents. They create projects in co-operation with top-level foreign partners to obtain contracts on a competitive basis, from equally independent funding agencies. Many of these contracts involve large sums of money. S&T diasporas are often involved, but implicitly, as relational structures at the service of the project, since very often the people managing the co-operation on the American side are researchers from the home country concerned.

15India and China have both introduced policies explicitly aimed at making good use of the scientific and technical skills of some of their high-level expatriates, harnessing the expatriates' desire to help their countries' development. This governmental approach pairs with actions and initiatives by local universities and the private sector. The S&T diasporas are necessary, and are present as a relational fabric that makes it possible for projects to develop.

16Notably, in this pattern of relations between the USA, its Indian and Chinese migrants and their home countries it is initiatives by S&T actors from home countries and host country that drive S&T cooperation. And this seems to be mutually beneficial: the home countries do gain from expatriate brains, even if this gain is slight compared to total expatriate potential.

17Another significant point for us is that India and China, and the other emerging Asian countries, are known for their many, active diaspora networks, especially in the United States, as we saw from the first part of this synopsis.

18This seems to demonstrate that S&T diasporas are necessary for this kind of situation to become more widespread, with home countries benefiting from expatriates skills. Although the US has no policy explicitly directed at S&T diasporas as such, this is surely because they already exist and not because they are not necessary for co-operation.

19The important lesson from the USA's relations with India, China and their expatriates, is that the S&T diasporas co-exist with S&T cooperation operations that allow the home country to benefit from their emigrants, and that they evidently play a major part in the process. These countries' situation as emerging countries (see classification in section For the countries of the South..., Synopsis Point One) and their long tradition of emigration (see section The scientific and technical diasporas.... Synopsis Point One) appear to be very important for grasping the possibilities of a co-operation policy.

  • 2 European countries have the same kind of relationship with India and China, albeit on a smaller sc (...)
  • 3 Indian researchers teaching basic literacy in Indian villages are an exception.

20One key aspect of the case described here should be noted. On the home country side, they involve institutions that are already well-endowed and of a very high standard, with infrastructures and a high quality scientific and institutional environment. In both India and China there are islands of very highly developed S&T, which manage to achieve critical mass because of the size of the country. Their S&T co-operation with the USA is based simply on a spatial extension of the international scientific community's own ground rules for research funding and performance. This is obviously a major advantage; it means that actors from both countries belong to the same professional community2. Expatriates' projects with regard to their home countries are mainly for high-level research, or for business, or, more often than not, both at once3.

S&T diasporas and government S&T co-operation policies

21S&T diasporas can be viewed in two ways:

  • either as part of a proactive co-operation policy to enable developing countries benefit from their expatriates;
  • or simply as the result of the growth of S&T, due to S&T actors acting in their own interests in the competition for funding.

22There are two ways to interpret the above examples to draw conclusions for S&T co-operation with developing countries and the countries of France's ZSP, given that S&T diasporas have a role to play in S&T co-operation projects that make use of expatriate skills:

  • either S&T diasporas are regarded as a particularly suitable instrument for a home country to benefit from expatriate skills, and therefore a mechanism top be set up to promote S&T development,
  • or one can consider that operational S&T diasporas will emerge spontaneously as a country's S&T develops, once the conditions arise under which it is in peoples' interests to form or join them.

23In the first case, the S&T diaspora is part of a proactive co-operation policy for developing countries to benefit from their expatriates: S&T diasporas must be supported because they help S&T development.

24In the second case, host country governments do not need to concern themselves with S&T diasporas as such: they are a result of S&T development which in turn arises from S&T actors seeking to advance their own interests in a competitive world.

25In fact the two options are not mutually exclusive if one considers that the second will result from the first. In this view a proactive policy of supporting S&T diasporas is an instrument for S&T development in the home country, but at some stage will be replaced by the spontaneous actions of similar institutional actors working out their partnership strategies in the international S&T arena.

26The idea that an S&T diaspora support policy is appropriate is based on the following premises:

  • S&T diasporas provide a channel for co-operation actions enabling home countries to benefit from expatriate skills,
  • S&T diasporas can be a focus for host country government policy.


27Internationally -and in Europe particularly- the idea that diasporas in general and S&T diasporas in particular are a driving force in development and can be incorporated into government policy is receiving more attention, and opinions are favourable to the idea.

The Monterrey and Johannesburg international conferences

28At two recent international conferences –one on development aid held in Monterrey in March 2002 and one on sustainable development held in Johannesburg in August 2002– the question of civil society participation was a central focus of the debates.

29Both conferences appealed to governments to reduce the concentration of agencies and resources, to simplify procedures and to delegate responsibilities. Co-operation for sustainable development was presented as depending more and more on increased autonomy for development stakeholders.

30The S&T diasporas were not mentioned as such, but the spirit of the conference declarations was clearly in favour of giving official recognition to the role of this type of body, regardless of political and institutional cleavages.

Co-development as a stated policy of the EU

31The Council of Europe specifically pronounced in favour of co-development for the first time at its meeting in Tampere, Finland, in October 1999. The Commission's November 2000 communication to the Council and the European Parliament on Community immigration policy also recommends a partnership approach and benefit sharing between the migrant and both countries.

32This idea was confirmed by the European conference on migration held in Brussels in October 2001, and forcefully reiterated by the Belgian presidency's conclusions to that meeting, which call (paragraph 16) for a policy that establishes as direct a link as possible between cooperation and collaboration in managing migrations. In December 2001, the States meeting at the European Council in Laeken undertook to introduce such a policy as soon as possible (paragraph 39).

  • 4 The institutional foundations for this approach are shaky, however. One sign of this was the disso (...)

33Despite divergences among member States, the final declaration of the June 2002 summit in Seville ratified this strategic association between migration and co-operation as a basic guideline4.

34Again, these declarations were not directly about S&T diasporas, but the proposed linkage between migration and development in a “co-development” approach speaks for itself. Although migration is a hotly debated issue in Europe today, the mobility of highly skilled people does not appear to be a problem.

The Asian Development Bank and the World Bank

35These concerns are now addressed at the inter-governmental level by international organisations. But while the close involvement of Unesco, the IOM, UNDP, ILO, United Nations and WHO through their operational programmes is well known (see Appendix 2, Specifications of the collegial expertise survey), that of the development banks is more recent.

36The Asian Development Bank has launched a programme to evaluate experience in S&T diaspora networks to assess their contribution to scientific development in Asian countries of origin.

37The World Bank too is inquiring into S&T diaspora networks, though its approach focuses more on the business sector. It has pilot projects under way in Armenia and South Africa.


38Recent initiatives suggest that France could outline a policy of support for S&T diasporas as part of its S&T co-operation policy.

39Diasporas in France are from countries with a different profile to the Asian examples examined above. There is less networking, in many cases there is no well-established diaspora tradition, and the scientific, technical and industrial situations in the countries of origin are much less dynamic than in Asia.

  • 5 The idea of extending this model to the rest of Africa is currently under discussion between South (...)

40SANSA (South African Network of Skills Abroad), which has become a benchmark for support to S&T diasporas, was the direct result of a French-South African co-operation programme between two research institutions, jointly financed by the French Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the National Research Foundation in Pretoria jointly financed in the late 1990s5.

41Initiatives in the ZSP include the symposium on "A new partnership with Senegalese abroad", organised by the Ministry for Foreign Affairs, the African Union and Senegalese expatriates and held in Dakar in July 2001, and the Benin expatriates' symposium in Cotonou in July 2002 ("Journées des Béninois de l'extérieur"). Similar initiatives are in preparation in Congo and Sierra Leone.

42In Africa more generally, partnership with the S&T diaspora has become an important goal in major multilateral programmes like Migration Internationale pour le Développement en Afrique (MIDA) and the New Partnership for African Development (NEPAD). The MIDA programme, launched by the IOM, aims to achieve on a regionwide basis the goal that some countries are trying to achieve individually, i.e. To locate and reconnect with expatriate skills. For example, the above-mentioned "Journées des Béninois de l'extérieur" led to a linkage with the MIDA programme and a commitment to contribute to that programme. Also, Belgium now supports the implementation of MIDA in the Great Lakes region. And a sub-programme, MIDA Health, conducted jointly with the World Health Organisation (WHO), is establishing databases of African expatriate medical staff, which will be delivered to the participant countries in a few months' time.

43The very recent creation (March 2002) of the FORIM forum of migrants' solidarity organisations in France is an encouraging factor: migrant groups are establishing more formal links among themselves and with the authorities for the development purposes, in the context of a structured co-operation policy. FORIM took shape gradually, following several years of effort to bring people together with a view to co-development. S&T diaspora initiatives can also take advantage of it.


1 What we say here about India and China applies equally to other emerging countries in South, East and Southeast Asia.

2 European countries have the same kind of relationship with India and China, albeit on a smaller scale.

3 Indian researchers teaching basic literacy in Indian villages are an exception.

4 The institutional foundations for this approach are shaky, however. One sign of this was the dissolution by France in August 2002 of the Inter-ministerial Mission for Co-development and International Migration (MICOMI, which was under the authority of the Prime Minister).

5 The idea of extending this model to the rest of Africa is currently under discussion between South Africans and Nigerians. Nigerian and South African experiences that could prompt emulation are described in Part Two of the report on CD-ROM, Chapter 8.

© IRD Éditions, 2003

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