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[BEIJING] China's ambitious plan to attract top Chinese scientists home from overseas must be tightened up to ensure it delivers the high calibre researchers the country is hoping for, say leading academics.

At the 'Attracting Academic Talent Summit' held in Beijing last week (2 June), scientists broadly supported the One-Thousand-Talents scheme — launched in December 2008 — but said that it must be bolstered with more rigorous assessment of the candidates.

Zhang Jie, principal of Shanghai Jiao Tong University, told SciDev.Net: "The key to attracting real top talent is to set up a mechanism able to assess a candidate's value in an objective way."

The scheme aims to attract successful Chinese-origin scientists to lead key laboratories, projects and disciplines in China. It promises competitive salaries and funding to people with full professorships or the equivalent in developed countries. Non-Chinese scientists will also be considered.

"Quality control is one [challenge]," said Rao Yi, a dean of the Life Sciences School at Peking University, who was previously a full-time professor of neurology with Northwestern University in the United States, at the summit. "Peer review is essential for us to get the right people."

Rao said that so far he has not seen a rigorous selection mechanism in place.

Zhang Chunting, an academic at the Chinese Academy of Sciences and president of the Institute of Life Science and Biotechnology at Tianjin University, told SciDev.Net that the scheme currently relies heavily on a scientist's publication record — even though this only partially reflects an academic record.

He added that he is often asked to evaluate a candidate whose field of research is outside his expertise. "[Sometimes] I don't know what he/she is talking about," Zhang said.

Rao suggests establishing two evaluation committees — one to examine the ethical standards and general qualities of candidates and another composed of academic experts in the same field as the candidates.

Shi Yigong, vice dean of the School of Medicine at Tshinghua University, who helped set up the scheme, said that he hopes attracting talented researchers will increase China's academic level.

By the end of April this year the scheme had attracted its first group of 96 scientists and 26 entrepreneurs. It aims to attract a total of 2,000 in the next decade.