The subject of brain drain or human capital flight from the developing nations of the third world to the industrially developed countries caused much anguish within the intelligentsia worldwide during the period 1960-80. Anguished debates and editorials lamented the patent injustice of scientists and intellectuals educated at the expense of often starving people in less developed countries being lured away by governments and corporates of developed OECD countries where they were often obliged to work in junior and subservient positions. UNDP estimates that India suffers a loss of $2 billion (Rs.12,200 crore) per year because of emigration of engineering and IT professionals to the US. Moreover Indian students going abroad for higher studies cost the country a foreign exchange outflow of $10 billion (Rs.61,000 crore) annually, and almost 50 percent don’t return.
This is particularly galling because most Indian students go abroad for postgraduate studies after availing heavily subsidised undergraduate education in Central and state government-owned and aided colleges and universities which offer all students rock-bottom priced education regardless of household or family income. For instance, annual tuition fees in the All India Institute of Medical Sciences, Delhi — routinely ranked the country’s #1 college of undergrad and postgraduate medical studies — is a mere Rs.850 per year while the actual cost of educating a medical student is Rs.31 lakh annually. Unsurprisingly over 50 percent of AIIMS graduates proceed abroad for higher study, never to return. Despite the huge annual loss suffered by the public which subsidises the education of engineers, medical practitioners and other professionals, a longstanding proposal — backed by all political parties — to make emigration of government educated graduates conditional upon their paying back the cost of their higher education has yet to be enacted. The usual argument for official inaction is that eventually a ‘reverse brain drain’ would compensate the nation and public.
Although the reverse brain drain argument has aroused much scepticism and is widely viewed as a cop-out by politicians who have so little faith in the policies they frame for the nation, that no sooner are they elected than they begin the process of planning the migration of their progeny to the West. However after liberalisation and deregulation of the Indian economy in 1991, with foreign travel and currency exchange restrictions almost fully abolished, a substantial number of successful NRIs (non-resident Indians) have begun to return not only to shake up industry and business, but the moribund Indian education system as well.
It’s pertinent to note that 50 percent of the founder trustees of the newly-promoted, high-potential Ashoka University are NRIs or reverse immigrants. Ditto Shoolini University. Moreover even indigenously-promoted new private universities are drawing heavily upon the huge pool of NRIs who have risen to high positions in academia abroad, particularly the US.
Through a fortuitous combination of factors — particularly unforseen crystallisation of the new globalised economy — the reverse brain drain argument has belatedly acquired some validity.