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When cash is short, branding may be way to stem brain drain

Higher pay is not Taiwan's best recourse against the brain drain.

Earlier this month at the Academia Sinica, President Ma Ying-jeou pledged to boost salaries for professors and subsidies for overseas study, saying the battle for global talent is a matter of “national security.”

It's an echo of Deputy Minister Pan Shih-wei of the Council of Labor Affairs (CLA), who in April cited low workplace wages as the “main reason” that Taiwan is failing to attract and retain talent.

“The problem lies with enterprises that are unwilling to raise salaries for their staff members,” said Pan.

But winning at the global talent grab on the strength of cash is a headache-inducing prospect.

National Taiwan University (NTU) — the nation's premier and arguably best-subsidized school — offers new assistant professors NT$1 million a year, a princely sum in a nation where the average annual income per worker is about NT$500,000.

But even that is barely competitive, reported Economics Department Chair Wang Hung-jen this February.

In 2010, six professorships opened up in the department. Two years of intense recruiting and stacked offers of salary incentives later, the university has filled only four. Meanwhile, the top-ranked National Chengchi University can't fill seats either. A semester's efforts resulted in recruiting just two professors for six vacancies at the College of Commerce, according to Associate Dean Samuel Chen.

Over the past 30 years, government policies to upgrade compensation and other conditions for overseas students have barely ticked up the return rate from 20 to 30 percent. The rate is also on a decline due to overcapacity at subsidized science parks, according to the Migration Policy Institute, an independent U.S.-based think tank.

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