'Brain drain represents a $2 billion annual loss to India' -- The United Nations Human Development Report, 2000.
But the times have changed. In the last five years, there has been a drastic decline in the number of Indian students leaving the country for higher studies and better paying jobs abroad.
Prestigious engineering schools such as the Indian Institutes of Technology are these days reporting a 'disinterest' amongst students to go abroad because of better emerging opportunities within the country.
Says V Kalyanaraman, Dean of the Centre for Industrial Consultancy and Sponsored Research at the Indian Institute of Technology, Madras: "The number of graduate students from IIT going abroad for further studies or jobs has drastically decreased."
Figures as to what percentage of students has opted out of foreign jobs or higher studies abroad, especially to the United States, are hard to come by. But Kalyanaraman says with regard to IIT, Madras: "I think there has been some 40 percent reduction in the number of students going abroad in the last two years."
All these years, the highly skilled Indian talent flocked to America and other western countries for good jobs and better living standards. But these days, many of them are returning home and fewer students passing out of premier institutes, like the IITs, are opting to work abroad.
Kalyanaraman outlines four reasons why there is a reduction in brain drain and an increase in the reverse brain drain:
More challenging career opportunities in India;
Decrease in opportunities in the United States, particularly in the information technology sector; and
Improvement in the standard of living in India.
"Students are finding interesting and challenging jobs in India. The pay in India is also much better than it used to be earlier. And above all, they find that they can have a good quality of life in India too," reasons Kalyanaraman.
One main reason for this reversal of fortunes for IITians is the good pay that multinational companies offer in India.
Take, for instance, IIT-Bombay. This year, 31 IITians got job offers from IBM, 25 from Oracle and 16 from Intel at the IIT-Bombay. IIT-Bombay also saw the average salary increase to approximately Rs 3.5 to Rs 4 lakh (Rs 350,000-400,000) per annum from around Rs 3 lakh (Rs 300,000) per annum last year.
Chennai-based education consultant P Vasudeva says there's yet another reason for this decline in IITians opting for jobs and studies abroad.
The 'dual degree' programme, introduced in some IITs, is the cause, according to him. 'Dual degree' means an integrated bachelor's and master's degree along with the regular B.Tech programme.
"Many students are now opting for dual degree programmes in IITs and that means they need not spend considerable time looking for MS courses abroad, especially in the US," he points out.
Also, Vasudev says, if someone commits to do a PhD in the US, it takes about seven years, which is not an attractive proposition at present. "Nowadays, everyone wants to go through the IIT-MS-MBA route in India, and get settled here with good jobs," he adds.
Moreover, getting admissions for MS for an IITian in a US university is very tough these days because many American students are opting for master's programmes.
The higher pay and better opportunities are also forcing many IITians who went abroad years back to get back home.
IITian Arun John, a software engineer who worked in Texas for seven years, is one of them. Late last year, he came to settle down in Bangalore: "The US is a good place to spend some years. Not to work your whole life. I hated the idea of working for a lifetime in the US," he says.
John has set up Skynet Solutions, a technology solutions company, and has four US contracts already. "India offers more challenges. Why waste life in the US," he argues.
He says many of his IIT colleagues working in the US are preparing to head back home.
"Everyone wants to do something on his or her own. India, at present, offers lots of opportunities to do something different and be independent," John adds.
Two years ago, the American Electronic Association came out with a report which said many Indian techies are going back 'turning America's brain drain into India's brain gain.'
Titled Losing the Competitive Advantage: The Challenge for Science and Technology in the United States, it said countries like India and China are dramatically increasing the skill sets of their workforce, thereby posing a challenge to the US leadership in the technology domain.
"Public-private partnerships (in India) have invested in technical universities and communications infrastructure to create cutting-edge technology parks in places like Bangalore. This will only make India more competitive and alluring to investors and multinational companies," the report said.