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“Will they return?” One of many questions for India

By many measures, Indian higher education presents enormous opportunities and extraordinary challenges. The country is keen to expand rapidly and significantly both the percentage of young people enrolled, as well as the number of institutions to accommodate them, all the while aspiring to provide higher education of good quality. This is a tall order for any country. However, one very acute problem in the quest for improved Indian higher education performance is the lack of sufficient faculty numbers and the inability to produce these domestically in a timely enough fashion to meet current goals for enrolment expansion. Three researchers – with affiliations to the Rutgers School of Management and Labor Relations and Penn State University in the US, and the Tata Institute of Social Sciences in India – argue in a March 2011 report that “the most promising way to fill this gap is to recruit back many of the over 100 000 Indians who are studying in the US each year … and the many others who are studying in other nations or who have completed their degrees and begun academic careers abroad”.

Will they return? The willingness of potential faculty to return to India and key factors affecting their decisions
is a study based on a survey of some 1 000 Indians who have completed or are currently completing graduate study in the US. In what may be good news for policymakers in India keen to re-attract educated Indians from abroad, the authors found that some 74% of the respondents were interested in returning to India, or had already done so when surveyed. Key reasons for wanting to go back included not only an affinity for Indian culture and ties to family, but also the desire to “give back” to the country and “help build the Indian higher education system”. Major hurdles to return, however, are seen in the respondents’ feelings about “red tape” and “corruption” in India. The authors go on to include a series of recommendations for how India might leverage what appears to be some real potential for re-attracting expatriates specifically for roles in higher education. Ideas include implementing a “Teach for India Higher Education” programme; inviting retired senior US academic leaders to serve for a period of time in leadership capacities in Indian universities; and modernising and streamlining the “staffing process in Indian universities”.

Anything done to improve the number of faculty in India will require resources, of course. The 2011-2012 budget plan for India calls for a sizable increase of 34% for higher education to a total of INR 131 billion (approximately EUR 2 billion). The University Grants Commission receives the largest single share of this funding (some 34%), with other sizable chunks of the total budget going to new and existing Indian Institutes of Technology, National Institutes of Technology, Indian Institutes of Science for Education and Research, and expanding or establishing new polytechnics. Still, critics say the new budget fails to follow through on key promises made within the current Five-Year Plan (which expires in 2012) and India remains far from meeting its many ambitious higher education goals, including faculty numbers and more.
Rutgers School of Management and Labor Relations

Government of India, Ministry of Finance