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[BEIJING] Elite science 'studios', the dispersal of graduates into rural areas, and awards for overseas scientists who return home form part of an aggressive plan to transform China into a hotbed of talent over the next decade.

The Medium and Long-term Talent Development Plan (2010–2020), the first ever national-level talent cultivation plan, was issued by the Communist Party of China (CPC) and the State Council earlier this month (6 June).

China hopes to develop six major categories of talent — including one for high-tech researchers — with the ultimate aim of transforming itself from a labour-rich country to a 'talent-intensive' one. 

The plan includes a key goal of increasing the ratio of researchers from 25 per 10,000 in 2008 to 43 in 2020. By 2020, the ambition is to have 3.8 million researchers — and 40,000 high-level scientists leading innovation.

Attracting foreign talent into China will be another focus, through attractive packages including government awards for those who move to the country.

The existing One Thousand Talents scheme — initiated in late 2008 with the aim of attracting 1,000 overseas top specialists in key technologies and new research areas — has been incorporated into the plan.

China is setting up 12 projects, which it hopes will be the vehicles for achieving the 2020 goals. Other tools will include dispersing college graduates into rural areas to aid local development of science.

And there will be elite studios in which outstanding scientists will work together to solve research problems, as well as 300 innovation 'talent bases' — pilot programmes in the fostering of talent, to be run by universities and research institutes.

Rao Yi, a Chinese biologist with Peking University, and formerly of Northwestern University in the United States, welcomed the plan.

"The guidelines are good, but specific measures should be taken to prevent quick success and instant benefit," he told SciDev.Net.

Compared with quantity, the quality of talent is a bigger issue for China, said Liu Yun, a professor of science policy with Beijing Institute of Technology. The total number of talents in China may be increasing year by year, but it is still severely short of high-level talents compared with developed countries, he said.  

In essence, developing talent requires setting up the right social environment, he said. Therefore a project such as this, a common practice in China, cannot guarantee a long-term return, Liu told SciDev.Net.