The Asian Age and Deccan Chronicle.
March.16 : Foreign universities may be queuing up to open campuses in India. A few Indian Institute of Management graduates reportedly turned down international assignments in favour of lucrative, domestic offers. Some Indians are indeed coming home after successful stints overseas. But the global economy continues to draw India’s young and restless abroad. That is both good and bad.
At a recent networking reception in Canada House in Lutyens’ Delhi, Jean Charest, the Premier of Quebec, announced that foreign students who graduate from universities in his province will automatically qualify for a certificate that will make it easier and quicker to qualify for Canadian citizenship, provided they pass health and security checks. Mr Charest explained Quebec’s move bluntly, “We are doing this because we have a shortage of skilled labour”.
The Prime Minister of French-speaking Quebec and the university brass who accompanied him during his visit to India are among the latest to join the global race for international students. Other provinces in Canada have been at the game much longer following the lead of countries like Australia where selling education to foreign students is the third-largest industry, just behind coal and iron. Predictably, Australian foreign minister Stephen Smith used his recent trip to India to repair his country’s tarnished reputation following a spate of attacks on Indian students in Australia.
If Prime Ministers and foreign ministers of industrialised countries with sluggish population growth have turned salespersons, aggressively competing to attract and retain international students, it is because, frankly speaking, they have little choice. In many developed countries, the baby boom is over. Currently, they are confronted with the dual problems of an ageing population and consistently low fertility alongside a debilitating shortage of skilled personnel in key sectors.
A recent article in the Montreal Gazette put it crisply: “Foreign graduates of our universities make ideal immigrants. They have Canadian education credentials. They have few integration problems because they’re already familiar with Quebec. They have low settlement costs because they’re already here. And they tend to find jobs relatively quickly — no welfare needed, thank you”.
The epicentre of the global talent hunt is Asia — China and India far exceed any other nation in terms of student mobility. In the long-term, developed countries could possibly reduce their need for immigrants through massive investments in education, and retraining of their existing workforce. This is will cost money.
The cheaper and short-term solution, clearly, lies with developing nations like India and China which have become reservoirs of a young, skilled workforce.
The United States education sector — especially science and technology departments — are desperately searching for students, especially Indians and Chinese. Indians made up the largest number of international students in the US for more than eight consecutive years and the lead persists even during the current economic recession. Chinese and Indian university graduates won the most scholarships to study for a Master’s degree in the European Union in 2009. One in 10 of all the “Erasmus Mundus” Master’s scholarships offered — 188 out of a total of 1,833 — were won by Chinese graduates for the academic year 2009-10. Indian students came second with 118 scholarship winners.
Can the jobs of the future in the developed world be filled only by sons (and daughters) of the soil? The answer depends on who you speak to. But clearly, the education sector and industry in those countries are not taking risks.
Ironically, the hunt for the best and the brightest of the developing world is happening at a time when rich countries are tightening their visa rules for the rest. “It is not surprising at all. It makes economic sense for them to bring in the cream of the students from the developing world, train them and allow them to work temporarily. This helps the individual migrants and destination countries who retain their competitive edge”, says Prof Binod Khadria, project director, International Migration and Diaspora Studies Project at Delhi’s Jawaharlal Nehru University.
“India is a major source country for student migration and the number is increasing every year”, states the India Migration Report 2009, edited by Mr Khadria.
The global talent-hunt goes beyond students. For example, today, alongside the Philippines, India is a source of well-trained and English-speaking nurses. The increased demand for nurses in developed countries has spawned the growth of private recruitment agencies which export Indian nurses.
Global mobility is good for individual migrants. But is it good for the sending country? One could argue that the home country also benefits through remittances, technology transfer as well as “brain gain” in instances where the migrant comes home after working abroad for some time. But global mobility has given rise to a situation that is infinitely more complex than what appears on the surface.
“Presently, there is a tendency to focus on the immediate and short-term benefits arising to the country from emigration of its workers and students”, states the report. However, the labour market projections within India already show a shortage in most categories of high-skill human capital — scientists, engineers, doctors, managers, IT professionals, teachers, nurses and so on.
Emigration is adding to that shortage. If this trend continues, the shortage of skilled personnel in the country would mount, further leading to the decline in the average productivity of labour as a whole, the report notes.
One area that needs immediate attention is the information gap, says Mr Khadria. There is a severe lacuna of good data to feed into policy-making on migration to maximise its positive effects and minimise the negative ones.
A few telling indicators: despite being a major source country, India still does not have enough information on women migrants, on remittance flows in general, and how that money is being used. It would help to know, for instance, what proportion of the money that is sent back is used in real estate and what proportion is ploughed into education and health that can boost national capacity and yield long-term returns.
Patralekha Chatterjee writes on development issues in India and emerging economies and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org