UCL Department of Science and Technology Studies


Brain Drain 4

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

An ESRC funded research project


1. 'Brains, drains and mobility: scientific migration in the 1960s'Matthew Godwin, Jane Gregory, Brian Balmer

Department of Science & Technology Studies Seminar Series
Room G3, 22 Gordon Square, 30 April 2007
University College London


Institute for Historical Research, Senate House, London
Contemporary British History Seminar Series
Venue: Wolfson Room, IHR. 24 October 2007, 5.00pm

The much-publicised scientific ‘brain drain’ in the UK in the 1960s was
controversial, but the debate owed little to the actual count of scientists who
left the UK to work overseas. Very little data on migration was available to the
civil servants and scientists who worried about this perceived loss to Britain.
Whitehall focused on the difficulties of attempts to measure migration, while
the early press coverage, in contrast, focused more on the emigration, actual
or threatened, of high-profile scientific personalities. Overall, concerns
about the loss of scientific workers seem to reflect more general fears about
the decline of the UK – fears which were particularly acute where the
emigration was to the USA.

2. ‘The Anatomy of the 1960s ‘Brain Drain’ Debate in the UK’Matthew Godwin, Brian Balmer, Jane Gregory

BSHS Annual Conference, 28 June – 1 July 2007
University of Manchester

The term ‘brain drain’ was adopted in the 1960s in the context of concerns within the UK that the country was losing skilled scientific and engineering personnel to other countries, notably the USA. These concerns were widely reported by the British press, generated protracted discussion within Whitehall, and provoked substantial claims and counter-claims from various quarters about both the existence and possible significance of the ‘brain drain’. This paper traces the main contours of the debate, from the landmark 1963 Royal Society report on emigration of scientists, to the gradual closing down of the debate in the early 1970s. We argue that the ‘brain drain’ debate overlay a far more protracted, less high-profile, debate about scientific migration that originated in post-war manpower policy. A crucial feature of both these debates was the problem of measuring migration, and therefore of visualising it as a concrete policy problem, which made it difficult for the Government to assess the issue. Finally, we underline the heterogeneous nature of the ‘brain drain’, which was interpreted differently at different times, in terms of, for example, individual talent vs mass migration; loss of scientists or engineers or of all skilled personnel; and as a recent panic vs a slow-burning issue.

3. Inventing the 'Brain Drain': science, policy and the popular pressJane Gregory

University of Manchester, Centre for History of Science, Technology & Medicine
,27 November 2007
CHSTM Seminar Room, 2.57 Simon Building


Godwin, M, Gregory, J and Balmer, B (2009), 'The Anatomy of the Brain Drain Debate, 1950-1970s: Witness Seminar', Contemporary British History, Vol 1 pp35-60

Balmer, B, Godwin, M and Gregory, J (2009), 'The Royal Society and the 'Brain Drain': Natural Scientists Meet Social Science', Notes and Records of the Royal Society 63: 339-353

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