Francesco Lissoni (Université de Bordeaux)


From 11:00
to 12:30
From 11:00
to 12:30

Course description
We live in a new age of mass migration, one in which highly skilled individuals represent a substantial and increasing share of international mobility flows. Migration rates for the tertiary educated are higher than for the rest of the population, and generally increase with further education and especially for STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) students and workers.

The size and share of the phenomenon has resurrected the interest of both scholars and stakeholders in the possible connections between migration and innovation. What once was a niche research theme in economic history is nowadays treated by several other disciplines in both humanities and the social sciences. It also ranks very high on the policy agendas of local and national governments, and on the strategic agendas of R&D-intensive multinationals and research universities worldwide, both of which increasingly contribute to the phenomenon. The course will discuss to what mechanisms may underlie the link and how different disciplines have contributed to our understanding of one or another, namely:

Diffusion: Economic historians and innovation scholars have mostly focused on how migration contribute to diffuse scientific and technical knowledge, under the form of trade secrets, private information, know-how, or practical skills. Historical studies focus on religious or ethnic minorities moving from an advanced country to less advanced one (the Huguenots in Prussia in the XVII century; the German Jewish physicists and chemists in the US in the 1930s). Innovation studies deal instead with economic migrants bringing with them some specialist knowledge (such as the Russian STEM workers in the US and Israel after the collapse of the Soviet Union).

Variety: Regional scientists and geographers have explained the impact of migration on innovation and productivity via the increase in cultural variety of regions and cities. By doing so, they have connected to organizational research on the performance of teams as a function of their internal diversity. The course will consider both.

Labour markets: Labour economists have examined whether (i) foreign scientists and engineers in the may displace local STEM workers in host countries or instead multiply their chances to engage in innovation activities; and (ii) whether migrants are self-selected among either the most skilled workers in their home countries, and possibly end up being more skilled than natives in host countries.
Brain gain: Last but not least, development scholars discuss whether the migrants’ home countries just suffer of a “brain drain” (due to the loss of highly skilled workers) or in fact enjoy some form of “brain gain”, as families and individuals perceive education as an opportunity to migrate and ultimately invest more in it. Further brain gain may derive from reverse diffusion flows, such as when migrants transfer back the scientific or technical knowledge they acquired abroad, by keeping in touch with or return to the home country (as with Indian or Chinese inventors in the United States).

The course will cover such different topics by exposing the students to recent evidence on each of them. Before doing so, however, the students will be introduced to both (i) the empirical and theoretical fundamentals of migration economics, and (ii) the historical literature on migration and innovation in 15th to 18th century Europe. This is because the migration-innovation link has to be understood in the context of current migratory movements, which have formidable economic and demographic determinants, as well as in continuity with a long-term historical process determined by the inter-play of transport costs, knowledge codification, and intellectual property protection. One additional class may cover the R&D outsourcing strategies of R&D-intensive multinationals, whose subsidiaries in emerging countries contributing to channel global talent in the international migration circuit.

Learning outcomes of the course
At the end of the course, students will be aware of the fundamental facts concerning migration and highly skilled migration (consistency and direction of flows, impact on employment, wages, scientific knowledge and innovation, in both home and host countries), as well as of the theories explaining them. They will also be familiar with the main official sources of policy reports and data, including unstructured ones (patent archives, scientific archives…). Finally, they will be able to discuss the viewpoints of different stakeholders (large companies, universities, local authorities, national policy-makers, and public opinion at large), in both the home and host countries of migrants, with respect to the impact of migration on innovation.

Teaching and evaluation methods
The course will be organized as follows.
1_All or nearly all material (slides, readings, data) will be made available before the start of the course
2_Frontal classes (lectures) and in-class activities will be alternated quite regularly, with a prevalence of the former at the beginning of the course and of the latter towards the end. Lectures will be based on slides and concentrate on either the key stylized facts to be retained or the basic theoretical elements to be understood.
3_In-class activities will consist in discussing either (i) the lecture-related materials (to make sure students read them instead on just relying on slides) or, especially towards the end of the course, (ii) materials searched by the students themselves, on topics of their interest. Discussions of (i) will be an individual activity (Q&A in class). Discussions of (ii) will be conducted by small groups. Students with data handling skills will be given the opportunity to work on data from public sources or provided by the lecturer.
The evaluation of students will be entirely based on their regular participation and involvement in class activities, plus a slides-based presentation during the exam session (upon request, students may submit a paper, too)

Unit 1 Basic economic notions (recap)
Unit 2 Historical and current migration trends
Unit 3 Migration determinants: basic models and related evidence
Unit 4 Labor market effects in destination countries: theory
Unit 5 Labor market effects in destination countries: evidence
Unit 6 Self-selection and return migration
Unit 7 Migration, trade and foreign direct investments
Unit 8 Migration and innovation in modern Europe
Unit 9 Migration and science in the United States
Unit 10 Highly-skilled migration and the role of multinational companies
Unit 11 Brain drain vs brain gain
Unit 12 Discussion of students’ proposals for paper/presentation topics chosen (on Friday)
Unit 13 Special topic: Migration policies and public attitudes

Bibliography (provisional)
The lecture-related teaching material will consist mostly of:

_limited excerpts of migration handbooks for undergraduates:
Bansak, C., Simpson, N. B., & Zavodny, M. (2015). The economics of immigration. Routledge.

_classics in economic history and their recent reappraisal, such as:
Scoville, W. C. (1951). Minority migrations and the diffusion of technology. The Journal of Economic History, 11(04), 347-360
Cipolla, C. M. (1972). The Diffusion of Innovations in Early Modern Europe. Comparative Studies in Society and History, 14(01), 46-52.
Hilaire-Pérez, L., & Verna, C. (2006). Dissemination of technical knowledge in the Middle Ages and the Early Modern Era: New approaches and methodological Issues. Technology and culture, 47(3), 536-565.

_policy reports from international organizations, such as the United Nations, the OECD or WIPO (World Intellectual Property Organization), for descriptive statistics of migration trends

_popularization versions of research papers, such as blogs on VOX (, discussion papers by IZA (, or Bruegel’s policy briefs (

Two books by important contributors to the field are forthcoming, and will be considered as possible references, namely:
Clemens M. (2019) The Walls of Nations, Columbia Univ. Press
Kerr, W.R. (2018) The Gift of Global Talent, Stanford Business Books

Two essay collections will also possibly provide material on recent migration-cum-innovation phenomena:
Fink C., Miguelez E. (eds) (2017), The International Mobility of Talent and Innovation: New Evidence and Policy Implications, Cambridge Univ. Press
Ganguli I., Kahn S., MacGarvie M. (eds) (2019) The Role of Immigrants and Foreign Students in Science, Innovation, and Entrepreneurship, National Bureau of Economic Research / Univ. of Chicago Press


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