NEP 2020: Reversing the Trends of Education Brain Drain

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By M. Kashyap and Muzaffar Bhat

THE focal point of this article is to examine the causes, effects of brain drain and how the New Education Policy (NEP 2020)’s proposed revamp of the entire education system would be well suited to tackle the pressing problem of educational brain drain in India.

According to a report issued by the National Science Foundation – Immigrants’ Growing Presence in the US Science and Engineering Workforce: Education and Employment Characteristics, 57% of the immigrants were born in Asian countries. Of the lot, India is still the top country of birth for immigrant scientists and engineers. This means there has been an 85% increase from 2003. In just over a decade, India has lost nearly 9.5 lakh individuals to brain drain to the United States alone. That is without taking into account statistics for the outward flow of human capital into other countries like Canada, Europe, Australia, New Zealand, Japan, UAE etc.

This trend is highly problematic because competent individuals who could have contributed to the growth of their home country, economically, socially and otherwise leave for greener pastures.

There are a few factors which contribute specifically to educational brain drain in India. Firstly, there is the issue of colleges setting impossibly high cut- off rates as the eligibility criteria. This disheartens a lot of students because the likelihood of scoring around 99% for most is slim to none. On the other hand, there are many coveted universities abroad such as Oxford or Cambridge that set 75% or even lower as the admission cut-off. Therefore, these become the clearly more attainable fruit for those who are able to afford it.

Secondly, the promise of high paying jobs in the future is a big draw for students who go abroad for higher education. It is a huge boon especially for those who wish to work in the private and corporate sectors. Owing to the subpar research facilities, structuring and caliber of Indian higher educational programmes, even the private sector employers in India give preference to “foreign returned” candidates who end up with plum entry-level packages such as INR 15 lakhs or more . This is also an influencing criteria for educational brain drain.

Thirdly, the costs of higher education programmes, especially at the post-graduate level are prohibitively expensive for many students who wish to enroll in Ivy League equivalent institutions such as IITs, IIMs, National law schools etc. Either the process or the pricing is so off-putting that the students would rather apply abroad.

Fourthly, there is the evaluation system itself where in some cases, the universities tend to value and reward quantity over quality. This leads to the students picking up the art of “bullshitting” or writing extensively rather than dissemination of meaningful and pertinent information. There are no net intellectual gains when a system rewards the students for writing expansively, rather than understanding the concept and its application extensively. For the hard working student, this system of evaluation is no less than a curse. However, the foreign universities use a much more transparent and merit oriented system for evaluation and scoring. For the dedicated student, there is guaranteed gold at the end of the rainbow. But, that is not to say that the entire Indian higher education system is a massive swamp that needs to be drained.

Many Indian universities have now established autonomously operational departments which are almost on par with foreign universities vis-a-vis grading and the system of credits allocation per course. The system of cumulative grade point average (CGPA) encourages the students to stay on course, and maintain respectable grades consistently throughout all the semesters. This eliminates the Hail Mary proclivities of slacking off students, especially in higher level courses.

Lastly, and most importantly, there is a wide chasm between the educational approach taken by the Indian education system, and that of the education systems overseas. Our education system is heavily theory oriented, and focuses less on application. While it is key to have a solid theoretical foundation, it is equally paramount to learn the applications of the theoretical knowledge we memorize in a rote fashion, quite mindlessly.

Furthermore, the students cannot choose the subjects of their choice across streams because our system at present lacks that kind of flexibility. If a youngster desirous of being a sound engineer wishes to study PCMC (Physics, Chemistry, Maths and Computer Science) along with undertaking formal Music training at his college, that is not possible in our system. But the same can be pursued abroad simultaneously either in the form of a dual degree or through the majoring/minoring system.

In the past, key foreign investors and stakeholders of the higher education sector have been understandably reluctant to invest in India because of the tenuous logistics issues (securing operation licenses, campus permits, red tapism at bureaucratic levels etc. to mention a few), cultural and linguistic barriers, and tedious legalities especially pertaining to FDI. However, the NEP 2020 promises to ease up on these blockades, and grant them reprieve regarding regulatory frameworks, governance, and content development norms. A smart and sensible educational development policy cognizant of the existing issues, and needs of the people has the potential to be the panacea required to reverse the trend of brain drain and transform it into a positive asset acquisition tool. Besides, the benefit accrues to our students who wish to acquire the full benefits of studying abroad at a fraction of the costs. Some students often suffer from serious levels of homesickness and even drop out from programmes when they go abroad. Furthermore, the cost of college abroad is not something which everyone can afford, even if the student secures a scholarship or receives financial aid. Even discounting the cost of college tuition, there are several other expenses to be met such as housing, food, electricity, water, miscellaneous expenses which burn a steep hole in the pocket. However, when foreign universities are allowed to set up campuses here as proposed by NEP 2020, students will be able to get a world class education at their doorstep, provided by the best faculty along with high calibre degrees that make them employment ready locally or globally.

An important criteria for students to study abroad so far was the rigidity of the course structure and content in India. For example, if a student wishes to major in Biochemistry while minoring in Fine Arts, this sort of a “deviation” is impossible because of the inflexible educational framework employed by colleges.

Lastly, at present, foreign universities have an edge over us in the field of research. Owing to the considerable grants and substantial funding poured into research both by the State as well as private stakeholders, there is a deep crevasse between India and the world in terms of expectations towards research publications, eminent research labs and the quality of research. NEP 2020 aims to resolve this with the inception of the National Research Foundation (NRF). With an initial grant of Rs. 20,000 crores per annum from the Central Government, the NRF will design and execute a blueprint for improving research and innovation across all fields and industries, provide on-ground patent application training, and promote a robust application oriented approach to research. Consequently, this will strengthen the link between academia and industry.

NEP 2020 can be the linchpin for not only eliminating educational brain drain, but also bringing about an education revolution of seismic proportions in India. The ripple effect of this education revolution has the potential for what tech billionaire, entrepreneur and scientist Elon Musk calls, the opportunity for ordinary individuals to become something extraordinary.


  • M. Kashyap is a lawyer practicing in Bangalore and Muzaffar Bhat is a businessman from Srinagar who is passionate about public policy matters

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