A dog-eat-dog culture is developing in Cambridge and other UK hotspots that threatens to stop the country leading the world in semiconductor technology. The chips are literally and figuratively down, with semiconductor companies poaching each other’s people without the talent pool being expanded and bright young engineers either being driven out of Cambridge and the UK or being wooed at increasingly younger age by overseas universities and companies.

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The brain drain is turning from a trickle to a flood. And that at a time when a record number of US chip champions moving into the Cluster raise the bar even higher with soaring salaries and record demand for new recruits.

Tech entrepreneurs are now warning that the UK government needs to act fast if Britain isn’t to lose a hard-earned birthright.

A source with a technology company told Business Weekly. “The brain drain is being driven down to an increasing number of our younger talents. Youngsters with a tech bent who are doing A-levels now are seeking scholarships in the US so this is now happening at pre-graduate level.”

More than 1000 fully funded undergraduate scholarships for the academic year 2022-2023 are available at US top universities for international students.

These scholarships provide an average monthly stipend of $1000 along with tuition fees, accommodation charges, health insurance and travel allowances. And we are talking here about the likes of Yale, Harvard and Columbia.

ARM Head Office Campus in Cambridge - note new 2017 design corporate logo.  ARM is wholly owned subsidiary of SoftBank Group Corp Stock Photo - Alamy
ARM Head Office Campus in Cambridge

Rene Haas, the recently installed CEO of Cambridge superchip architect Arm, has called for the Government to fashion a fresh blueprint to protect and enhance the UK’s semiconductor industry at a time when a global shortage of chips is hammering several industries.

He is demanding more and higher R & D tax credits for home-grown operators and a concerted effort to woo more skilled engineers into the country.

Haas told The Times that these were essentials to head off competition from rival companies in the EU and US who are each planning record investment into their semiconductor industries.

Citing Britain’s “fantastic strengths” in chip design and broader semiconductor plays, Haas said UK companies could take a stronger grip on the massive electronics market globally if the Government acted fast.
He wants to see life made easier for engineers to cross borders and move to the UK.

He told The Times: “There’s only so much talent in the world that knows how to do this work. So making it easy for those folks to come into the UK to deliver the work would be hugely beneficial.”

Arm co-founder and serial tech entrepreneur Dr Hermann Hauser said one of the solutions to the brain drain would be to “reverse Brexit.”

He said: “UK growth lags five per cent behind Europe since Brexit and one million people have left the UK. This means that one per cent of the UK GDP has just walked out of the country!

“For some reason we are not allowed to say anything against Brexit as it seems like treason but that will not change the facts.”

Cambridge’s strength in semiconductors is being further eroded by the battle for hearts and minds within the industry itself.

Arm’s traditional bete noire, Intel, is hiring locally. So too on a huge scale is Imagination Technologies which opened a Hills Road, Cambridge office last August and is currently seeking more than 50 engineers for Cambridge alone as part of a massive global push.

And in recent weeks and months California trio SiFive, indie Semiconductor and AMD have further stoked up the battle for brains and bodies.

As Business Weekly has previously reported, cash rich RISC-V computing company SiFive has opened a UK R & D centre in Cambridge and plans to hire more than 100 people within two years.

Nasdaq company indie Semiconductor has just opened a Cambridge design centre and immediately advertised for 15 top guns. A third California business, Advanced Micro Devices Inc, said it wanted some 40 top engineers and other key staff for its new Cambridge operation.

Add in the demands of massively growing Apple, Samsung, Qualcomm, Graphcore, Huawei and others and the situation becomes even more critical. Salaries have already soared to record levels but the cost of living in Cambridge and planning objections to new tech infrastructure are further militating against unprecedented expansion for the semiconductor segment.

• Cambridge and the UK could lose graphene pioneer Paragraf to the US because its boss says the Government doesn’t have a clue over policy for the sector. Co-founder and chief executive Simon Thomas criticised difficulty in finding talent in the UK, poor support for University spin-outs and lack of coherent government policy for the sector.

Paragraf's newly launched Hall Effect sensors based on graphene image
Paragraf graphene products

Paragraf is itself a University of Cambridge spin-out. Its technology produces graphene wafers that can form a basis for microprocessors and therefore holds immense promise to boost chip performance.

Thomas says the anger is spreading to quantum computing, telling The Times: “I know three quantum computing companies saying things would be much better in the US.”

By Tony Quested, source https://www.businessweekly.co.uk/news/hi-tech/brain-drain-chips-away-cambridge-semiconductor-strength