IN his speech at Silicon Valley in September, Prime Minister Narendra Modi said that the so-called brain drain is actually brain gain — “a brain deposit that is waiting for an opportunity to be of use to the motherland.”
That deposit is multiplying fast. According to a report from the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), highly educated Indians were the fastest growing set of emigrants to OECD countries in the decade to 2011. The OECD countries include 34 wealthy countries (with high per capita income) such as the US, Australia, Israel, South Korea and several European nations.
Look at the numbers. The overall migrant population of Indian origin in developed countries was 3.6 million in 2010-11, an increase of 83% over the previous decade. But the growth in the population of highly educated Indians was even faster at 123%. At 2.24 million, highly educated Indians are 62% of total Indian origin migrants. This rate is higher than for migrants from other Asian countries such as Singapore (55.8%), Philippines (52.3%) and China (43.8%).
When it came to highly educated individuals, Indians were the most populous at 2.24 million, but Mexico an OECD country itself sent the most number of people about 12 million to other OECD nations.
With only about 8% of Indians being graduates, according to Census 2011 numbers, this means that about three out of every 100 highly educated Indians work or study abroad, a rate which has marginally increased between 2000-2001 and 2010-11. The numbers are higher for doctors and nurses with about eight out of every 100 of them migrating to a developed country.
Note that as of January 2015, OECD nations accounted for about one-fifth of the total non-resident Indian population, according to the ministry of overseas Indian affairs (though the comparable OECD report numbers don’t strictly match). So the migration rate of Indians may be even higher as move to other countries such as those in the Gulf.
The OECD’s 34 member-states are: Australia, Austria, Belgium, Canada, Chile, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Iceland, Ireland, Israel, Italy, Japan, Korea, Luxembourg, Mexico, Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Poland, Portugal. Slovak Republic, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Turkey, UK and US.
Experts say this brain drain highlights the lack of job opportunities that match up to education levels, and underlines concerns over India losing its assets. The numbers have also increased sharply because of a surge in the number of Indians opting for tertiary education.
“India is clearly a huge knowledge economy. The number of professionals produced in different areas is very huge and hence the number of emigrants appears larger,” said Jayan Jose Thomas, assistant professor at IIT Delhi. In comparison with countries such as China, India has the added advantage of many of its population being fluent in English, which in turn allows them to integrate well in Anglophone countries such as the US, UK and Canada.
The OECD report lays particular stress on the migration of health professionals. India saw the highest number of doctors move to OECD countries in 2010-11. Over 86,000 doctors from India were working in OECD countries in 2010-11, with Chinese doctors coming a distant second at just over 26,000. India also had the second-highest number of nurses working in these countries at 70,471.
“India does produce a large number of doctors as compared to other countries. Hence while the total number of doctors moving to other countries is higher, the expatriation rate is quite low,” Thomas added. As of 2010-11, the expatriation rate for doctors from India to OECD countries stood at 8.6%.
This is relatively low, especially compared to that of its neighbors Sri Lanka (28.3%), Pakistan (11%) and Nepal (22.3%). India’s expatriation rate for nurses was only 5.4%. China’s, though, was much less (language may play a role in this), with the expatriation rate for both doctors and nurses at only around 1%.
With the health infrastructure already poor in India, the loss of doctors and nurses acts as a double whammy for the country. According to a report by the Indian Council of Medical Research, the doctor-population ratio in India as of 2013 was 1:1800 — much lower than the World Health Organization’s (WHO) recommended ratio of 1:1000.
Does India stand to lose out via this “brain drain”? Opinions differ, but it is clear that India has made a lot of effort to engage with its diaspora, as the much-hyped Pravasi Bharatiya Divas testifies.
However, data on how successful these efforts have been is hard to come by, other than the fact that remittances have increased. China has been more successful in this regard. It runs an aggressive program to attract skilled members of its diaspora. A United Nations report quoted statistics from China’s ministry of education which put the number of Chinese overseas students returning at 272,900 in 2012 — an increase of 46.57% from 2011.
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