Journal of Optimization Theory and Applications

, Volume 168, Issue 1, pp 268–295 | Cite as

Optimal Career Strategies and Brain Drain in Academia

  • Andrea Seidl
  • Stefan Wrzaczek
  • Fouad El Ouardighi
  • Gustav Feichtinger


Some areas of science face the problem that many academics prefer the private sector over academia. This negatively affects the quality and the quantity of the research output as well as the availability of competent lecturers in these areas. The present paper investigates by means of an optimal control model how the reward of competencies in research and teaching in the private sector affects investments into these skills as well as the decision on whether and when to optimally leave academia. As the decision between academia and industry is obvious if a scientist has strong preference for either, we focus on scenarios where this is not the case. We notably show that the dynamic trade-off between academia and industry results in various forms of brain drain. In this regard, we first confirm that if academic competencies are well rewarded in the private sector, the most competent academics will leave academia. Further, we find scenarios where a scholar with intermediate competencies will try to improve his or her skills as much as possible before leaving academia and scenarios in which it is optimal to not put much effort into work and let competencies slowly depreciate before leaving. Even if scientists are highly skilled and motivated to stay, if poor working conditions do not support knowledge acquisition, competencies will inevitably fall and academia will consist solely of mediocre scholars. The results suggest that brain drain can be destructive for academia in the long run.


Optimal control Academic career History dependence  Human capital 

Mathematics Subject Classification

49N90 90B70 49N10 91B08 


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media New York 2015

Authors and Affiliations

  • Andrea Seidl
    • 1
  • Stefan Wrzaczek
    • 1
    • 2
  • Fouad El Ouardighi
    • 3
  • Gustav Feichtinger
    • 1
    • 4
  1. 1.Department for Operations Research and Control Systems, Institute of Statistics and Mathematical Methods in EconomicsVienna University of TechnologyViennaAustria
  2. 2.Department of Business AdministrationUniversity of ViennaViennaAustria
  3. 3.ESSEC Business SchoolCergy PontoiseFrance
  4. 4.Wittgenstein Centre for Demography and Global Human Capital (IIASA,VID/ÖAW,WU)Vienna Institute of Demography/Austrian Academy of SciencesViennaAustria

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