Saving the brains trust
If India wants to be a leading economic power, it has to develop a formidable arsenal in intellectual capital
Brain drain: A large number of Indian students seek graduate training in centres of learning around the world
If the 19th century is characterised as the scramble for Africa and the 20th century is about the scramble for oil, then the 21st century will soon be seen as a scramble for intellectual capital.
More than ever, industrialised nations and developing countries understand that if they are to be significant players on the global scene, or, at a minimum, if they are to control their own destinies, they must secure the best and the brightest minds.
Intellectual capital is indispensable to the process of innovation and production of goods and services that would guarantee a secure and prosperous economy.
Evidence of this realisation abounds in some of the world’s leading industrial countries in the West. The immigration policies in Canada, the U.K., Australia, New Zealand, Germany and the U.S. reward in greater numbers, either through the assignment of points or quotas, permanent resident status as well as work authorisation to immigrants who have achieved the highest levels of education.
Such individuals are understood to be the most desirable immigrants and therefore, the path to permanent residency or long-term employees is made as easy as possible.
In some cases, some of these rewards are targeted to benefit immigrants with advanced degrees and professional experience in specific fields. In the U.S., for example, students in what is known as the STEM fields (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) are allowed more than twice the time given to students in other fields of endeavour to remain and work there after completion of their programmes of study.
If the current economic boom in India is to be sustainable, if India is to match its status as one of the world’s leading democracies with a position as a leading global economy, it has no alternative but to develop a formidable arsenal in intellectual capital.
This may not be as overwhelming a challenge as it may seem. The industrial parks, the boardrooms, the research labs and the decision-making centres for the world’s leading industrial nations are chock- full of Indian immigrants contributing their considerable talents to the prosperity of these nations. If anything, India has been a net exporter of intellectual capital for a very long time.
Severely limited by the capacity of its higher education institutions, Indian students have historically left India to seek graduate training in the centres of learning around the world. Many of them have remained in these countries and pursued very successful careers, adding to the growing footprint and influence of the Indian diaspora.
India’s challenge is not so much to bring back these very talented men and women to take positions in Indian society as much as it is to rapidly create the means for significantly larger numbers of Indian students to receive the training to meet the needs of the workforce right here in India.
One of the strategies to address this challenge involves entering into partnership with credible and fully accredited institutions of higher education from around the world that can deliver academic content in India.
The recent pronouncements by the Indian government to liberalise the higher education policy make the prospect of this possibility much more real.
With the dismantling of the red tape that has historically kept leading universities out of India, Indian citizens will soon have the unprecedented opportunity to select from among a much broader menu of educational training options and enrol at some of the very best educational institutions without leaving their country.
The rapid rise of the middle class in India also now means that many more families have the resources to pay for academic training. Aided and abetted by the reality that Indian families generally perceive investment in education as possibly the best investment they could make for their children, and even for themselves, the demand for higher education can only be expected to grow in the coming years.
Will the entry of American universities in India be the answer to the massive unmet need for undergraduate and graduate degrees in India? Probably not, but in the near future, they can certainly help to ameliorate some of the difficulties in this regard.
(The writer is Vice-Provost for International Education, Northern Arizona University, U.S.)
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