Towards retaining scholars

Towards retaining scholars

Though our higher education sector has rapidly expanded, globally significa-nt contributions from this sector are yet to emerge.

Recently, speaking at the 10th convocation of Mizoram University, President Pranab Mukherjee stated that our higher education system, though capable of producing world-class scholars, loses them to foreign universities. According to him, a serious scrutiny is necessary to counter this avoidable trend.

Though our higher education sector has rapidly expanded over the last few years, globally significant contributions from this sector are yet to emerge from India. According to the 2015 Times Higher Education (THE) rankings released recently, not a single Indian university has made it to the prestigious world reputation rankings. The ranking of the top 100 world universities published by the Times Higher Education Supplement (THES) in 2014 also included none from India. 

The survey finds 15 Asian universities from China, South Korea, Japan and Hong Kong occupying respectable places.

On India’s poor performance, THES (Times Higher Education Supplement) editor Phil Baty commented last year, “We believe research is the key to building reputation. India seems to be more focused on teaching, building capacity and bringing in more students.” This year, he said “It is really a matter of concern that a country of India’s great intellectual history does not have a single university that is regarded by academics globally as being among the world’s most prestigious.”

According to him, strong universities are crucial for the success of developing nations – helping to retain top talent in the country and prevent brain drain, attract investment, develop highly skilled future leaders and create new knowledge and drive the knowledge economy.

Scholars across the world are attracted to an institution only if they recognise it as an excellent teaching and research institution that is capable of providing conducive working environment. Emigration of scholars could be reduced if they are provided better financial and non-financial incentives. It is quite natural that resources will be moving to places where they are better rewarded.

Indian talent is more recognised overseas and where there is a chance to prove and succeed, talent moves there. Celebrated Nobel laureate economist Amartya Sen is a case in point. But we should not turn out to be a nation using its scarce resources to supply high profile scholars to the rest of the world jeopardising our own research and development priorities.

Recent researches have pointed out that it is mainly the labour market and the wage premium on education that are key to attracting highly skilled talents. The substantial research and development spending in the universities in developed countries also induces greater inflow of highly skilled migrants to those countries.

India loses most highly skilled scholars and workers to foreign markets. In 2000, 9.9 per cent of the total number of physicians trained in the country was going abroad. The emigration of health professionals has negative effects on India, especially in rural areas where there is scarcity of skilled doctors.

One of the most affected sectors is genetic engineering and biotechnology as 90 per cent of post graduates in this field go to the US after the completion of their studies in India. The US remains the most important host country of highly skilled Indian migrants with more than 80 per cent of Indian skilled migration to all developed countries. In the host countries, Indian migrants are among the best educated and highest earning group.

For shortage of good academic institutions, thousands of meritorious students prefer foreign varsities. According to a recent report, Indians are spending nearly $1 billion on higher education abroad. This drain on scarce national resources could be reduced considerably if we are capable of providing world-class educational opportunities in India.

Since top universities are essential in retaining talent in the country and prevent brain drain, it should be the endeavour of developing nations like India to strive for world-class universities. Only world-class institutions can attract and retain world-class scholars.

Top-notch varsities

As Philip G Altbach of Boston University says top-notch varsities feature highly qualified faculty, excellence in research, quality teaching, high levels of government and non-government funding sources, international and highly talented students, academic freedom, well-defined autonomous governance structures, and well-equipped facilities for teaching, research, administration, and student life.

The setting up of 14 world-class varsities of excellence under the Ministry of Human Resource Development’s “brain gain” policy in the 11th plan (2007-2012) has not shown much improvement. It should also be recognised that outstanding teachers who can make substantive contributions to teaching and research create world-class universities.

Brain drain can create shortages of skills and it represents a loss of investment. To reap the full benefits of initial investments in skills, countries where brain drain is a major concern should retain their skilled workers by improving labour-market conditions locally. The best way to prevent brain drain is to provide incentives to stay, rather than by imposing coercive measures to prevent emigration.

In many research institutions, caste-based appointments and promotions are road blocks to sincere efforts and innovations. Nepotism is a major demotivator for genuinely talented people who simply migrate to places where they are valued and respected. Bureaucratic hassles in government and university departments act as major impediments in carrying out independent serious research.

The environment in many university departments is not conducive for scholarly work. Plagiarism, facilitated by the cut and paste technology results in below average research outputs. Growing commercialisation of research cuts at the very root of quality research.

It is also important to ensure an environment of industriousness, conducive to entrepreneurship, research, innovation and transparent administration.

(The writer is a Bengaluru-based professor, researcher and consultant in economics)

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