Losing out on brains and pennies

Posted on April 18, 2010 in Education

Abhirup Bhunia:

Venkatraman Ramakrishnan is the recipient of the coveted Nobel Prize, something perceived as the subject of delight for Indians since he is of ‘Indian origin’, but what if he had continued to be in India, and pursued his research here? Would he have been the recipient of such an award then? Had the facilities, prospects and infrastructure among other things been adequately in place, which is not the case and does not look to be in the near future, then sure he would have. In that case, Indians would have enjoyed the liberty to rejoice without the fear that someone could cause discomfort by asking that itchy question — ‘What is in it for you to rejoice? He isn’t an Indian citizen’.

Venkatraman Ramakrishnan

India talks little about issues in education, exclusive of the HRD ministries marathon of reforms. But to talk of education — a significant conundrum in India and in various other undeveloped & developing nations is the case of brain drain whose fitting definition is ‘hefty emigration of individuals possessing talent, knowledge or intelligence to developed nations’. Brain Drain can be traced back to history when persons migrated from one nation to other to evade political unrest. But the issue had little to do with India. Today the vast proportion that it has assumed has much to do with India.

The chief reason: serious dearth of opportunity for the bright students. Wide-ranging amenities that are a must for research and development are indeed lacking, experts say. The very quality of higher education is put to debate every now and then sparking concerns over the future. That India and many other such nations lose out on a chance to cultivate and promote good brains is a fact. While R&D is one of the objectives behind moving overseas, it is not the only intent that students like pursuing abroad; engineering, management and medical studies along with arts and social sciences majors are on the list too although technical and scientific subjects feature right on top. Indian students who are drifting to developed nations in order to pursue and see through their careers might be considered as ambassadors of India, its cultures and its customs. But the enormous economic loss that the country suffers due to brain drain simply outshines such romanticized thoughts. The gravity of the problem, especially the one with economic tenor, can be measured if African nations are instanced. There has been so much outflow of individuals from South Africa and other African nations to developed countries like USA, that it has almost wiped out the chances of Africa rising from poverty.

Back home in India, the problem is no less severe. There were one lakh Indian students in USA last year. In the last five years the number of Indian students in Australia rose to more than 80,000. India provides USA the maximum number of foreign students, while in institutes at Britain, India provides the second most number of foreign students. Quite clearly these world powers welcome such inflow, since it adds to their wealth. To attract more and more students, lucrative and tempting scholarship programmes are arranged and brainy Indian students do not fail to grab these chances. There is ample reasoning behind such decisions, since there cannot be any institute in India that can stop one from gunning for Cambridge, not even Indian Institute of Science (IIS). Even the Indian Institutes of Technology cannot prevent an undergraduate from moving into USA for MIT (Massachusetts Institute of Technology). Pass up top schools — a student from India would, in most cases, prefer to be in an institution that is ranked tenth in USA, compared to one that ranks first in India. The reasons — far better infrastructure, state of the art facilities, economic gains after the course, luxurious lifestyle, and so an and so forth. David Miliband, UK’s Foreign Secretary once commented that the scholarship schemes would be focused on India and China which are going to be most important to their foreign policy success in the coming years. BBC reported in recent times that Australia’s higher education industry is its third biggest ‘export earner’ after coal and iron ore. Australia reportedly earns twelve billion dollars yearly as revenue from the four lakh foreign students that they have of which almost one lakh are from India. Singapore is not far behind; it was reported that out of the eight lakh students enrolled in institutes there, 4% is formed by Indians, and authorities there anticipate at least 6% hike in the number of Indian students in three years. A UNDP (United Nations Development Programme) estimate some time ago said that India loses ten billion dollars in foreign exchange outflow annually! Perhaps some unanimously accepted facts are that no Indian institute can offer a laboratory as high-tech & facilitating as in Harvard or no research center in India can be as full of prospects as in an AIP (The American Institute of Physics) and so on.

Hence it is time to eliminate hitches in Indian panorama of higher education. The ways to attract students, things the HRD ministry has already contemplated, are to augment quality. To do that, fourteen world class universities in partnership with global institutions, increasing the number of IIT’s and IIM’s and raising the number of seats for research in IISER from 1200 to 2400 per year, are the measures mulled over by the government. Salary incentives, perks, and assurance of improved prospects can lure students and scholars to retain their native citizenship averting economic beating in form of brain drain. The resolution of allowing foreign universities to come up in India will considerably curb brain drain, it is believed.