Richard B. Freeman and Wei Huang NBER Working Paper No. w21081, April 2015 titled "China's “Great Leap Forward” in Science and Engineering" looks at how over "…past two decades China leaped from bit player in global science and engineering (S&E) to become the world's largest source of S&E graduates and the second largest spender on R&D and second largest producer of scientific papers. As a latecomer to modern science and engineering, China trailed the US and other advanced countries in the quality of its universities and research but was improving both through the mid-2010s."
The paper "...presents evidence that China's leap benefited greatly from the country's positive response to global opportunities to educate many of its best and brightest overseas and from the deep educational and research links it developed with the US. The findings suggest that global mobility of people and ideas allowed China to reach the scientific and technological frontier much faster and more efficiently."
Overall, a nice addition to the body of literature exploring internationalisation of human capital and shedding some light onto a less reported area of this development: the reverse flows of human capital from the advanced economies to emerging markets.
Full link: Freeman, Richard B. and Huang, Wei, China's “Great Leap Forward” in Science and Engineering (April 2015). NBER Working Paper No. w21081: http://ssrn.com/abstract=2593660