Call it the Swades effect — only in this case it’s not just the motherland’s emotional pull but also the government’s attractive programmes that are drawing bright Indian minds back home.
Over the last seven years, initiatives such as the Ramanujan and Ramalingaswamy fellowships and the £160-million India Alliance between the UK’s Wellcome Trust and India’s department of biotechnology have prompted over 500 scientists doing research overseas to shift to their homeland.
The first two ‘re-entry’ fellowships — started in 2006 and 2007 respectively — are granted for five years and come with a monthly salary of Rs. 75,000 in addition to handsome research grants. A large number of their fellows are absorbed in the institutes where they do their research.
Take Vijay B Shenoy, for instance. He did both his MS and PhD from US universities before accepting the Ramanujan fellowship of the department of science and technology to do research at the Indian Institute of Science, Bangalore. He is now working as an associate professor at the same institute.
“The fellowship has been a boon for me. The biggest advantage of working in India is academic freedom,” says Shenoy.
Prajakta Dandekar Jain, a Ramanujan fellow who was earlier doing research at Germany’s Saarland University, says in a similar vein: “The freedom to choose the workplace and attractive salary packages are some factors that may help reverse India’s brain drain.”
The government is now trying to increase both the emoluments and research grants under the fellowship so it becomes more attractive, says department of science and technology secretary Dr T Ramasami.
Shahid Jameel, CEO of the India Alliance, says: “Since 2009 — when our scheme became operational — we have awarded 104 fellowships to outstanding biomedical researchers. A majority of them, I would say about 80%, moved to India.”