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Friday, 17 August, 2001, 11:40 GMT 12:40 UK
Is the brain drain harming South Asia?
Technical equipment
A recent UN report says that many South Asian countries are suffering a severe brain drain of skilled professionals.

Thousands in the fields of medicine, computers and management are opting to take their skills abroad.

This is often at the expense of the tax-payer who foots the bill for their education and training.

How do South Asian economies cope while their professional workforce is being poached by developed nations? Are the high costs of their education and training recouped in the long run?

Should they be persuaded to come back? And how does this migration affect the people themselves - those who leave and those who are left behind? Tell us what you think.

This debate is now closed. Read a selection of your comments below.

Your reaction

Why can't I work for them directly and get some foreign money for my country?

ZB, India/ USA
As a technical person, even if I was working back home, I would have been employed by a foreign company. In that case, why can't I work for them directly and get some foreign money for my country and a much better salary for myself?
ZB, India/ USA

Countries like India, Pakistan and China spend millions of dollars in preparing bright young minds and the best of their products end up here in the USA. They should look at their education system if what they teach is not applicable/useful in their own countries. I also believe that these countries themselves are run by semi-literate politicians who get elected on caste/clan affinities and very few of them can really meaningfully understand these issues.
Jim, USA

People leave their countries in the hope of obtaining a good future. But it is condemnable if they simply blame their governments and countries for that. In fact it is for rapid economic gains which everybody have a right to pursue but they should remember that they were nourished in the same societies. Still I feel that people going abroad have every right to work for their future good but should always remain thankful to their homelands and they should do whatever they can do to say thanks.

Brain drain? Of course. When there are no opportunities in the old country or limited ones, it is time to move on to greener pastures. When I grew up in India the only "lucrative" options I had after school would have been engineering, medicine, or computer science. In the US I had the chance to study what I really loved, history. Such disciplines still get a certain amount of respectability in the West and one can develop a career in them unlike in countries such as India. Brain drain is a sad trend but unless old country governments do more it will continue.
Amit Tonse, USA

Some people here are saying that they went abroad to get decent jobs as they couldn't find any in India. I don't know what they mean by decent job but I am working in the USA and all the Indian people I know here had a decent job in India. They only left the job to get another one in the USA to get more money and a convenient life-style.
Amit Kumar, India/USA

Who says we owe anything to the government?

Sonny, Canada
What taxpayers' money are we talking about? The last time I checked (which wasn't too long ago!), students enrolling for hi-tech or management programmes cough up hundreds of thousands of rupees to gain admission, not to mention the red tape and political recommendations! So, as far as I am concerned, we have already paid more than our share to get our education. Who says we owe anything to the government? On the contrary, the government should be glad that most of us have given millions of dollars back into the economy since we left.
Sonny, Canada

Most of the brain drain in South Asia comes from India, where there has been a huge surplus of skilled managerial, technical and scientific manpower subsidised by the state. This state subsidy of higher education should be pared down to the minimum. Only those who come from very poor backgrounds should have a subsidised education and only if he/she shows promise. Those from more affluent backgrounds should be made to pay for their education (in the form of low interest loans, payable over a flexible period after graduation). This will separate the time-wasters and freeloaders from the genuine students.
Sonny Azhaki, UK

Apart from a better economic future, I think another issue, specific at least to Pakistanis, is the growing conservative face of the country. Even with a decent career and economical affluence in Pakistan, many people want to leave simply to live in a more liberal environment where women have an equal chance of career growth and where people can live by their own moral standards rather then the ones imposed by the state or by the radical few.
Mohsin Ali, US/Pakistan

There is a general opinion that the person who goes abroad is smart

Ranu Pelayan, India/ UK
I belong to an Indian state where there are virtually no industries that can give employment to the engineering graduate from state funded universities.This is because the kind of educational institutions we have are not able to create entrepreneurs who can start a company in the state and give employment to people. India is lacking a healthy entrepreneurs' network and high profile educational institutions. There is a general opinion that the person who goes abroad is smart and that Indian companies lack a global view of doing business. This mindset will fade as a number of successful companies like INFOSYS/WIPRO keep growing. The change has already started and I definitely feel that my younger brothers will achieve what I couldn't.
Ranu Pelayan, India/ UK

I am a doctor trained in India and now working in the UK. I think we should learn from the UK system where the GMC and the Royal colleges make enough money from foreign doctors through registration, membership and exam fees. We have had a good medical training in India for almost no cost, then come to the UK for better prospects, but mostly fulfil the doctor shortage here. On the other hand we are paid well and have a comfortable life. We have a responsibility to pay back in some manner our home country for providing a good education. One way would be for the medical council of India to charge expat doctors some form of registration fee, as our primary medical qualification is given by them. If the system is open and accountable, the money earned could be put to use for improving the education and research infrastructure. This is also one way how the brain drain can benefit institutions in India and other developing countries.
Padman, India/UK

There are several reasons why professionals in South Asian countries want to go abroad

Lavanya, India
There are several reasons why professionals in South Asian countries want to go abroad - better quality of life, good working environment, money and less competition. Some people send money home to their families in India and also invest in properties in the country so in a way they are contributing towards the growth of the Indian economy.
Lavanya, India

So long as the politics and economies of these countries do not improve it is very unlikely that the brain drain can be reversed or even halted. A new breed of trained and qualified politicians are needed for a new vision and a better future not only to retain trained professionals in the sciences, industry etc but for the people at large.
Saravan, UK

Simple economics is all it boils down to. The so-called brain drain has nothing to do with professionals deserting their home countries. The majority of those who leave are the middle class, who, despite seemingly insurmountable hurdles and cultural barriers, have managed to educate themselves beyond what is offered by the system. Had they found decent jobs in their home countries they would never have left in the first place. I have not met a Pakistani, Indian, Sri Lankan, or Bangladeshi who does not have fond memories and strong ties to their home countries. In fact, these professionals repatriate millions of dollars back to their families in the form of valuable foreign exchange
Kevin Fernandes, Canada

I am working in an atmosphere free of ethnic favouritism

I am a physician originally from Karachi, Pakistan and am currently in the USA practising medicine. I left my country out of frustration due to the lack of good postgraduate teaching programmes and above all due to favouritism and the current quota system in Sindh which favours the people of interior Sindh and the biggest province Punjab leaving aside merit as a criteria and making ethnicity a big factor in getting these jobs. I have been competent enough to pass the licensing exams in the USA and have completed my residency and speciality training. I am working in an atmosphere free of ethnic favouritism.

Since employment opportunities in South Asian countries are limited, it does wonders for everyone if professionals get employment abroad. The unemployment problem is reduced and also the inflow of foreign currency improves the country's economy.
Mythili Nagaraj, India/ USA

What is the use of crying brain drain when even half the number of people who have left India in the past 5 years wouldn't have found a job if they had chosen to stay in the country. What is needed instead, is some kind of 'pay back' from all the developed countries that are reaping the benefits of the Indian educational system. This could range from financial grants to institutions, student loans, to tie-ups between reputable American/European institutions and Indian universities in education and research. This would benefit both sides and ease the financial burden on India.
Vivek, USA

People have to recognise their responsibility to the taxpayers who funded their education

Mathews Jacob, India
People have to recognise their responsibility to the taxpayers who funded their education and choose to stay/return home. If at least a few do so, that will be a good start. Some effort is required by the government also to smooth this process. It has to remove red tapes and be more transparent.
Mathews Jacob, India

It's interesting that the UN and other organisations lament the loss of "taxpayer money" spent on educating skilled professionals who then migrate to the West. As it turns out, most of these migratory birds (like me!) come from India's vast middle class that took shape in the late 70's and early 80's. We grew up economically challenged, saw our parents work harder than we know is healthy, earn a pittance, pay exorbitant taxes, and still try to provide the best for their children. The truth is, we have earned our way into knowledge, prosperity and global mobility. We have given much, taken little and will give a lot more going forward.
Shubh Saumya, USA

As an Indian living abroad, I am very thankful that I received a solid education in India which helped me to get where I am. Had it not been for the low cost of this education, my parents would probably have not been able to afford it. The recent phenomenon of reverse brain drain which has led to new investment coming into the country is proof that money spent on education does indeed come back in some form or the other. Brain drain is not a bad thing, as long as expatriates remain involved with the development of their home country. And the wealth of knowledge and experience they bring with them makes this involvement very effective.
Devang Mehta, USA

All sorts of people in South Asia want to emigrate to other countries where they hope to get jobs and a respectable life. This is only natural. Conditions in the region have reached an unbearable stage. Common people, even if they are highly educated cannot hope to get a respectable job. There is no hope of any change and the stampede to get jobs abroad or to emigrate will continue. No sermon to be patriotic can be heeded by suffering people when there is poverty and hunger all around.
Prof. Mukhtar Ali Naqvi, USA

The secret to holding on to talent is to create an investment climate which attracts talent

Manoj Saxena, India/ Canada
All over the world, countries in the poorer or even relatively developed parts are facing the same dilemma. The secret to holding on to talent is to create an investment climate which attracts talent. The body shoppers who disguise themselves as computer software companies are not going to help the situation. A hard export/emigration policy is not going to help either. India should invest more rather than less on its people and other resources.
Manoj Saxena, India/ Canada

As far as I know, the Indian Government spends around 10,000 to 25,000 dollars per professional. That money, along with interest should be given back to the Government if one decides to settle abroad.
Vivek Manchanda, Michigan/ Delhi

I feel that it is very important for skilled people to stay in their countries. In Pakistan many people leave after getting their degrees and this causes a huge deficit in the required manpower. They should be persuaded to come back or to remain here by creating better working environments, for instance ones with less corruption and nepotism. The Government needs to create a lot more incentives for these people to stay in their countries and to work for the development of their countries.
Rabab Jafferi, Pakistan

Listen now
... to both sides of the debate
See also:

10 Jul 01 | South Asia
Brain drain costs Asia billions
17 May 00 | South Asia
Germany woos Indian IT
15 Apr 00 | South Asia
India at risk of tech worker shortage
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