UCL Department of Science and Technology Studies


Brain Drain

The Anatomy of the 'Brain Drain' Debate in the UK

An ESRC funded research project

Our Research

The term ‘brain drain’ was adopted in the 1960s in the context of increasing concerns within the UK that the country was losing skilled scientific and engineering personnel to other countries, notably to the US. Although the term has since resurfaced in a variety of academic, policy and popular discussions about the international mobility of scientists , there is a notable absence of scholarly literature analysing the original debate. This is especially surprising, considering that the original debate was widely covered by the British media, generated protracted discussion within Whitehall, and provoked substantial claims and counter-claims from various quarters about both the existence and possible significance of the putative ‘brain drain’.

The aim of this research is to provide, for the first time, a detailed historical analysis of the ‘brain drain’ debate as a social phenomenon in the UK during the 1950s and 1960s. It will draw primarily on recently declassified documents in the National Archive (Public Record Office) and print media coverage archived in the British Library Newspaper Library. These sources will be supplemented by other relevant archival material and oral histories.


Who is carrying out the research?

Dr Brian Balmer
Dr Jane Gregory
Dr Matthew Godwin

Were you a 'brain drain' scientist?

If you were a scientist who emigrated to the United States in the 1950s or 1960s, or were involved in any way in the 'brain drain' debate at this time, we would very much like to hear from you about your memories of the 'brain drain'.

Please contact one of the other members of the project team (you can get their details by clicking on their names above).