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Swaha Sahoo, Hindustan Times
New Delhi, April 12, 2008
Brothers Rahul and Vinay Joseph Ribeiro have a lot in common. Both are engineers, both went to the US for further studies and now the two engineers are working as assistant professors at the Indian Institute of Technology, Delhi (IITD). And it’s not just the two brothers. At least 35 of the new teachers that IITD has recruited in the last 18 months have left job opportunities in prestigious institutions worldwide to come back to India.

Reverse brain drain

The IIT reputation coupled with India’s technological visibility and freedom at work seem to be the defining reasons behind this reverse brain drain.

“The IT industry has expanded so much that there are no barriers now,” said 31-year-old Niloy Mitra from the Department of Computer Science and Engineering. “Getting books and research journals is not a problem and there is easy availability of funds for research projects,” added the young assistant professor who can easily be mistaken for a student.

A huge salary cut does not bother Mitra, who did his masters from Stanford University and went on to get a PhD from Technical University, Vienna.

“There is a huge difference in salary. Moreover, the industry in India pays at least five times the salary that we get in academics,” Mitra agreed. “But today it is possible to get research grant of up to Rs. 25,000 a month. And the teaching load is easier than in the West,” he said.

Freedom to work

Freedom to work and recognition of being in a premier institution has also attracted faculty. S Janardhanan (29), assistant professor of electrical engineering, left his job with Nanyang Technological University, Singapore, to join IITD.

“I felt stifled with the work atmosphere. There was no freedom to work and I always felt like a foreigner,” he said, an IIT Bombay graduate. “When I got an offer from IITD, I realised working  in India among my own people would be better and the benefits cannot be quantified in monetary terms,” he added.

Vinay Ribeiro (31) initially came back to India for personal reasons. “While doing my PhD from Rice University, Houston, I worked with a Catholic Community that wanted some work done in Delhi. I wanted to pitch in and thus applied at IITD,” he said. That work is long over but Vinay has stayed on.

“India has changed so much. There is a lot of scope for research that we couldn’t have imagined during our BTech years,” he said. “Moreover, the students are very bright and teaching is a pleasure,” he added.

Better opportunities

Initially, Vinay’s brother Rahul (34) had no plans to come back to India any time soon. After having worked as a marine engineer for a few years, Rahul had plans when he joined Texas A&M University. “I wanted to work in biomedical sciences,” said Rahul, a PhD in Materials Science and Engineering. “I have ambitious plans and want to develop material that can replace tissues in the body.”

One day he saw the IITD advertisement for faculty positions, recorded his application through a presentation and sent it. A telephonic interview later and he was in. “Both IITD and the industry will help me in my research. While the institution gives us freedom to work the industry has come up in a big way to support us financially,” said Rahul.

Fellowships help

“I had planned to come back and teach at the IITs and fellowships have been of great help,” said 33-year-old assistant professor of Computer Science Amitabh Bagchi. “Such fellowships help bridge the gap between pay scales in academics and industry,” added the recipient of the Nucleus Outstanding Young Faculty Fellowships.

A lot has to be done, however, to attract more young people to come back, he added. “People in the West see IIT as a place with some good researchers. But the research output is a major challenge facing IIT system. We need to be more proactive,” said Bagchi, who was in Brooklyn Polytechnic, New York before coming back to India.