Sunday, April 4, 2010

Brain gain & educational reforms in India

The Indian prime minister recently expressed his desire to see the return of Indians who have gone to the US for higher education and have now settled abroad. He expressed the hope that this highly qualified manpower would return to help the transformation in India.

I recently came across online videos of talks that Mr. Montek Singh Ahluwalia, the Deputy Chairman of the planning commission and Kapil Sibal, the Human Resources Development Minister gave at the Massachusetts Institute of technology, USA on related issues. 

Montek Singh explains quite persuasively to the foreign audience, the broad range of policies put in place by the Indian government to promote growth and development. Kapil Sibal tries to make a strong case for American universities to set up campuses in India.

The reasons why the outcomes of such policies are likely to fail are evident during the question-and-answer sessions after these talks.

One Indian woman MBA student at MIT wanted to know from the Deputy Chairman of planning commission about the intern opportunities open to people like her if she returns to India and possibly be involved with the Government in some way. 

On the opportunities open to people who want to contribute to policy making in India Montek Singh Ahluwalia observed (see 1:18:23 in the online video)

 “People who want to join the Government do one of these two things. They either join the Government directly. The Government is a very mechanical recruiter; therefore it is not very easy to find the right spot and right place. However there are increasingly a number of good research institutions which are there, and which the Government uses quite extensively. So if you are interested in becoming a Policy wonk, you can join one of these places.  But the real problem is that neither the Government sector nor these Research Institutions pay enough salaries for such people compared to the Private Sector in India. So what you could do is, join Private Sector, make enough money and pounce into Government when such an opportunity comes up”

Regarding internships he further explained that

“If a student interned at Morgan Stanley or someplace, there they watch you closely and will absorb you subsequently if they like you. But in India, the recruitment system is supposed to be rigid and transparent etc. But otherwise, the internship does not give you any advantage.”

In the second talk, Kapil Sibal makes a strong pitch for a partnership with MIT and other Ivy League Universities to be part of the 400 billion investment opportunity in the education sector.

One Indian student raised the issue of discrimination on the basis of disabilities in the Indian education system which should trouble our collective consciousness (see this at 46:39 in the online video).

The student, Srikant, a native of Hyderabad is denied an opportunity to appear for exams for BITS, Pilani and the IITs due to blindness. The Government of AP helpfully advised him to pursue arts courses at intermediate level instead of sciences. He eventually went on to become the first ever undergraduate blind student at MIT. If that is not an inspiring example of pursuit of excellence, I don’t know what is. He earnestly asks Kapil Sibal for a G.O to allow people with disabilities to pursue science making the plea that “opportunities should be democratic”.

While there is much to commend in the speeches of both the speakers, overall the Q & A sessions reveal to the audience the systemic obstacles in actualizing this idea of brain gain. 

Also it turns out the reforms in the higher education sector are founded on wrong assumptions and need correction... (Read about it here, 1,2 and 3)