Reply Sat 11 Jun, 2011 09:11 am

I don't think that Indians should complain about brain drain any more. Not because it has stopped or because it is not an important factor: in fact, I read an article in the Economist recently about how the US is churning out too few doctors for its needs, and that it is a net importer of doctors, quite a few of them from poorer countries which educate the doctors at a huge cost to their meagre finances.

As a side, I often wonder why India has not taken any steps whatsoever to reduce brain drain when it has been perceived quite unanimously as a major problem for decades now. A simple but effective step would have been to ask prospective students to sign a bond committing themselves to work for say five or ten years in India after they graduate before they are given admittance to government run institutions: the government is paying for them after all. This does not get in the way of further education and such of the students, if they so seek to, because a deferment of three or four years on the fulfilment of the bond can always be granted in such situations. The Malaysian government has been doing something similar successfully for years now, in fact they go a step further: the government, and associated public sector companies, contract with students and send them abroad to get an international education, and when they are finished they employ the highly skilled graduates back home. Of course, the students always have the choice to break the contract by paying back the full amount spent on them by the government.

Anyway, getting back to my point, brain drain is happening, yes. But, it is only when it is held up in isolation as one issue that it appears to be so grave a problem. When we look at it as but a small part of the exchanges India as a willing participant of the global market engages in, this particular issue does not look quite so ominous. The issue, in retrospect, should have been a lot more important than it was for pre-1991 India, before we opened ourselves up to the global market. If one thinks about it, the apathy of the policy makers of India pre-1991 to the issue seems absurd: they wanted to run a self-sufficient socialist state, with highly restricted foreign investment and international trade, but they did not think it important to put any checks on valuable human resource nourished and paid for by the government just walking out of the country.

The situation is different now. India engages in international trade more and more freely every day. We gain some, we lose some. India exports water even though we are low on water resources (through products that are water intensive to produce). And India exports valuable human resource even though we are low on it. But we also gain access to technology we had no part in developing, and we gain access to wealth we didn't generate. So, instead of clamouring about our loss on one particular front, and advocating a protectionist policy, it is better to look at the entire picture and draft policies which would result in long term gains as a whole on the global market for the country. Of course, if there were a policy that would save us the loss of human resource, or maybe even gain some, while not affecting the bigger picture adversely (maybe a policy like the one the Malaysian government's following, perhaps), then by all means it would be welcome.
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