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The Government of India is going all-out to woo professors of Indian origin to return home


Added 19th April 2012


Over the past three decades, Dr Sadan-and Nanjundiah, Professor of Phys-ics at Central Connecticut State Uni-versity, thought of coming back to India several times. He even sought the assistance of the Ministry of Human Resource Development (MHRD), Government of India (GoI) and the Indian Embassy at Washington DC in 1985. While the Indian Embassy never responded, he received a rather rude reply from the MHRD. Margaret Alva (the then Minister of State, MHRD) actually wrote back to me saying that India did not need the services of people like me, tells Nanjundiah.

Cut to 2012. The MHRD is giving final shape to its Brain Gain Policy (See pg 18). As per the policy note, it is pulling out all stops to motivate Indian diaspora to return home to start with creating a climate of excellence at Indias 14 Innovation universities. We will extend it to other institutions of excellence (IoEs) also, in due course. Meanwhile, we have to build a set of objective criteria as to what is an IoE, says a senior official of the MHRD. The ministry is also considering a proposal by Dr Sam Pitroda to set up a global fund of $500 million to attract select professors

and researchers to India. A year back, it launched a webpage for non-resident Indians (NRIs) and persons of Indian origin (PIOs) on its website. The page says, This is going to be your window to opportunities in higher education sector back home. India is taking giant strides in the field of education and you can be a part of this journey

In fact, in early 2011, Kapil Sibal, Minister of HRD, GoI, in a special edition of MHRD newsletter brought out on the occasion of Pravasi Bharatiya Diwas, said, The knowledge sector in India needs the creative potential and the strategic vision of global talent particularly those of Indian origin.

India Calling

The government is clearly opening its arms wide to woo the best of Indian academics abroad. But even when there was no clear policy or intent to embrace them, there were some Indians teaching abroad who would return home. They were mainly spurred by a desire to contribute to nation building and give back to society they had been part of. I just wanted to come back and work for the country, says Dr Ashok Jhunjhunwala, the renowned professor at Department of Electrical Engineering, Indian Institute of Technology, Madras (IIT-M). Jhunjhunwala got his MS and PhD degrees from University of Maine and taught as assistant professor at Washington State University for two years before he joined IIT-M in 1981, a time when the institute did nothing particular to attract talent.

Around the same time, Sudhir K Jain, Director, IIT Gandhinagar, also returned after a PhD at CalTech to teach at IIT Kanpur as he felt a strong sense of engagement with India and gets a high sense of worth by contributing to the country. I have been an earthquake safety activist and of late an academic administrator. In both areas, India provided me great opportunities to do things that gave me the greatest satisfaction, he says.

But Jhunjhunwala and Jain were among a small band of people then. Today there is much more readiness among (global) Indians to come back, observes Jhunjhunwala. He is right. In fact, Dr Debashis Chatterjee, Director, Indian Institute of Management (IIM), Kozhikode, says that he receives one application every month from India-born professors in the US, Australia, New Zealand and Singapore. Many of them are tenured professors or those who would get their tenure anytime. Around 25 per cent of the 30 new professors we have added in the last two-three years are from the US, he says.

He is not alone. His counterparts at various top notch higher educational institutes (HEIs) like the IIMs, IITs, International Institutes of Information Technology (IIITs) and Indian School of Business (ISB) are experiencing a similar influx. About a quarter of our staff had taught abroad before coming to ISB and almost all our faculty have PhDs from top-grade schools abroad, says Ajit Rangnekar, Dean, ISB.

However, Chatterjee and his ilk do not have too much hard-selling to do these days. India is selling itself, he says.

Favourable Climes

While the gross domestic product (GDP) of most developed nations in Europe and the US is growing at less than three per cent, Indias GDP growth rate continues to hover at around eight per cent. That means, the decision to return to India is no longer entirely driven by patriotic fervour, but has also begun to make sound economic sense.

It has also become easier to relocate to India. Since 2005, PIO with foreign citizenship, have the option of an Overseas Citizenship of India card which gives them a lifelong visa to India and allows them to work in private Indian institutions.

Huge budget cuts for higher education, after the recent economic recession, in the US and other Western countries, are pushing their universities to downsize. That is resulting in job cuts, faculty freezes, forced vacations for professors and a drop in tenured positions. So, chances of a good academic career in the US, UK and Europe seem bleak, whereas India still needs many more PhDs to keep pace with its fast-growing economy. Plus, getting a green card is much harder now. Thus, growing opportunities in India are becoming a big lure for Indian academics abroad.

No wonder, well-known economist and Professor at Metropolitan State College of Denver, Dr Kishore Kulkarni wishes that he was younger today and at the start of his career, so that he could come back to India for good. Right now, India is most attractive. Salaries have increased considerably. Also, there are way too many openings now and the demand for good teachers is surpassing the supply, he says.

Sun Rises in the Sector

Thats no surprise. India is aiming for a gross enrolment ratio (the per cent of the population in the age group of 18-24 years which gets enrolled in colleges) of 30 per cent by 2020, from 12 per cent in 2010. This would mean an enrolment of 40 million students,an increase of 24 million from the current enrolment. As per the recommendations of the National Knowledge Commission, India needs to establish 1,500 universities to take its GER to even 15 per cent. So, not only is the government establishing new universities, colleges and polytechnics; it is also encouraging large-scale private participation in expanding the higher education capacity.

To ensure that quality does not suffer during this race to create and expand capacity, it is important that Indias higher education system quickly finds good quality, experienced teachers. By the end of Tenth Five Year Plan, India had a strength of 4.92 lakh faculty to teach 140 lakh students, which was woefully short of the requirement. According to Ernst & Young EDGE 2011 report, there is a need for continued focus on faculty augmentation initiatives. The report says that faculty appointment for higher education has grown at a slower pace than enrolments 2.28 per cent from 2005 to 2009, as against 6.2 per cent (student enrolment) in the same period.

As there is a huge faculty crunch even in the existing HEIs, including highly reputed ones like the IITs, IIMs and central universities, with nearly 21-35 per cent of the posts lying vacant, it would be that much more difficult to get quality faculty for the new institutes. In such a scenario, the only way to quickly get readymade, trained faculty is to bring back India-born professors abroad.

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