NEW DELHI: For decades, India has quietly coped with the phenomenon called brain drain — its best young talent, from engineers and scientists to IT graduates and business professionals, moving overseas for higher studies or jobs in search of faster growth opportunities and a better quality of life.
Now, the human resource development (HRD) ministry is doing something to reverse the trend. It’s planning to start a programme that will offer scholarships to students who want to do their PhD in top international universities. There’s one caveat:
the students will have to give an undertaking that they will come back and work in India when they finish their studies.
According to a senior official, the plan is aimed at attracting talent back to India with academic
and financial incentives and the removal of administrative hurdles that may impede them from coming back. The programme is targeted at young Indian academics and scholars under the age of 40, the official said on condition of anonymity.
“We need top-quality researchers and scholars to make India an innovation hub. It is envisaged that the scheme will be open to PhDs and post-doctoral scholars at the top 200 universities in the world. It has been suggested that they be offered appointment as faculty at a preferred Indian institution, and the title of PM Young Academician,” the official said.
Many Indians have made it big overseas. They include Satya Nadella, chief executive officer of Microsoft; Sundar Pichai, CEO of Google; Indra Nooyi, former CEO of PepsiCo; and Nitin Nohria, dean of the Harvard Business
School, among others, all of whom moved overseas for higher studies and built successful careers there.
To ensure that students who go abroad for higher studies return home and serve India, the government plans to offer scholarships of up to five years. In return, the scholars would have to work in India for at least an equal number of years after completing their doctoral programmes.
The plan is the brainchild of the HRD ministry’s Education Quality Upgradation and Inclusion Programme (EQUIP). Eighty experts, including Niti Aayog CEO Amitabh Kant; principal scientific adviser to the PM, Vijay Raghavan; former Indian Space Research Organisation chief K Kasturirangan, former Infosys CEO Kris Gopalakrishnan, and top ministry officials led by higher education secretary R Subrahmanyam, were tasked to come up with a five-year plan for the ministry.
The consultations were held on the direction of Prime Minister Narendra Modi and a report was presented to HRD minister Ramesh Pokhriyal Nishank for his approval.
In addition to the programme for young scholars, the ministry has devised a scheme under which distinguished Indian academicians at leading global institutions would be encouraged to return to India.
“The main objective of this scheme will be to facilitate deeper engagement of distinguished faculty and scientists with Indian institutions. They can even be offered dual appointments at Indian institutions (along with their foreign appointment), so as to (ensure that they) spend at least three months every year at the Indian institution. The scheme will be open to tenured academics at the top 200 universities of the world,” the official cited above said.
Responsibilities of these academicians will include mentoring at least two Indian PhD scholars or post-doctoral scholars every year, among other things.
“They will be eligible for an appropriate salary band at the Indian institution, a one-time relocation cost, research budget, etc, and applying for expedited visa and expedited OCI [Overseas Citizenship of India] card. The spouse of the academician will be assisted in employment search and will be supported to obtain an expedited visa,” the official said.
Another official, who was part of the discussions, said Indian education needs to be internationalised to improve its standards and the global standing of its institutions.
About 306,000 Indian students are studying abroad but only 46,000 international students, accounting for less than 1% of the global international student mobility, come to India for studies every year.
The EQUIP report also suggested “research sabbaticals” for Indian faculty that will help them do innovative work in collaboration with the world’s best, the official said.
Former University Grants Commission member Inder Mohan Kapahy said he welcomed the moves. “It is really worrisome that a huge majority of top young brains who have studied in publicly funded, prestigious institutions migrate to foreign lands. Other countries gain immensely because of this one-way brain drain,” he said.
Indian teachers based overseas serving at local universities for a part of the year would help in improving the standard of teaching and research in the country, Kapahy added.