Quantum Leap

How India is using fellowships to tackle brain drain

They let scientists test waters in India and build a research career early on in their career.

 |  Quantum Leap  |  3-minute read |   12-06-2018
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Brain drain describes migration of skilled workforce from developing countries to developed ones for better professional opportunities. India has seen brain drain since its Independence, more prominently among engineers, scientists and doctors. In the 1980s, a former director of an Indian Institute of Technology (IIT) had said that the moment someone joins an IIT, he is physically in India but his spirit flies away to the US, and after five years his body follows.

Brain drain, which is globalisation of skilled manpower, actually preceded the economic globalisation in the early 1990s. Since then, governments have been grappling with ways to deal with brain drain in the science and technology sector.

The response came in the form of various schemes — "scientists’ pool" launched by the Council of Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) in 1957 to "transfer of knowledge through expatriate nationals" in the 1990s. The entire focus was to give those who return job opportunities in IITs or research and academic institutions. This approach perhaps yielded moderate results.

Given the significant shifts taking place in the S&T landscape in India and globally, new avenues had to be devised to arrest brain drain in the post-2000 era. In 2006, the Department of Biotechnology (DBT) launched the Ramalingaswamy Re-entry Fellowship for scientists willing to return to India to pursue their research interests.

The Department of Science and Technology (DST) launched Ramanujan Fellowships to attract brilliant scientists and engineers from all over the world to take up research positions in any scientific institutions and universities in India where they are eligible for receiving research grants. In 2011, the "Innovation in Science Pursuit for Inspired Research (INSPIRE)" Faculty Award was launched for young scientists to come and work in India. All three fellowships are for five years.

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These three schemes aren’t meant for offering direct jobs. Instead, they let scientists test waters in India and build a research career early on in their career.

While the fellows work in a host institution of their choice for five years — they can also migrate from one to another — there is no guarantee that they will be absorbed after five years. The idea is to prepare them for a research career in these five years.

"The fellowships empower them to compete for research grants and positions globally after this period", points out prof Ashutosh Sharma, secretary, DST. The fellowship period acts like a buffer period during which fellows get assured research grants, infrastructure and funds to travel and attend scientific meetings or invite experts from abroad.

For the first time, a joint meeting of fellows of the three programmes was held in Jaipur. It emerged that despite hiccups like bureaucratic delays in implementation and apathy of some host institutions, the schemes have yielded good results. For instance, a survey of Ramanujan Fellows shows that 69.7 per cent of them could get permanent positions within two years of joining.

Under the Ramalingaswamy scheme, 312 scientists have returned to India since 2007, of which 203 have been absorbed as faculty. The quality of research output is also very high. Hopefully, the trend will gain more momentum in the years to come.

(Courtesy of Mail Today)

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Dinesh C Sharma Dinesh C Sharma @dineshcsharma

Journalist, columnist and author based in New Delhi.

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