Brain Gain Strategy for India: Gyan Ratna To Recognize and Attract Top Talent

Kapil Sibal’s First 100-days action plan mentioned “Formulation of a ‘Brain-Gain’ policy to attract talent from across the world to the existing and new institutions.” Sam Pitroda had also proposed setting up of a fund of $500 million to attract select faculty and researchers to India.

The fund proposal is facing criticism on at least two major fronts. First, the proposed amount of $500 million seems to be too high in the context of resource constraints and other priorities. The total budget of all 15 IITs is less than the $500 million. Another major concern is about the demotivating effect of high differential compensation on the academicians and researchers who opted to stay in India.

I applaud the ministry and Sam Pitroda to think along the lines of attracting the best talent to improve quality of higher education. This had been one of the most important areas which has not got enough attention. However, I argue that approach of attracting top talent through monetary incentives alone would be very expensive and even inefficient.

I see two other limitations with the proposal–appealing to the wrong needs of global faculty and lack of comprehensive approach on talent. Maslow’s need hierarchy defines five levels of needs from Basic needs to Complex needs. The proposal of attracting talent through money alone aims at Basic level needs like Physiological, Safety and Social needs, while the approach should be to appeal to Complex needs like Esteem and Self-actualization. “Esteem needs focus on self-respect and include recognition and respect from others. Fulfilling esteem needs produces feelings of self-confidence, prestige, power, and control.” “Self-actualization needs focus on the attainment of one’s full potential.”

Second, limitation of the fund proposal is that it lacks a comprehensive approach. The objective should not only be to attract the best Indian talent from abroad but also to attract foreign talent to engage with Indian higher education. Furthermore, there are many high caliber faculty and researchers who’s work is unappreciated. Thus, the approach should be to improve the competitiveness, productivity and professionalism of the education sector by attracting the best talent from any part of the world.

Gyan Ratna: Recognize the service and excellence in education

I propose that government should appeal to the esteem and self-actualization needs of top academicians and by recognizing them through a national title like Gyan Ratna (which means Jewel of Knowledge). These titles could be along the principles of Bharat Ratna which is “…the highest civilian honour, given for exceptional service towards advancement of Art, Literature and Science, and in recognition of Public Service of the highest order.” While Bharat Ratna are highly selective, only 41 awards till date, Gyan Ratna will be more broad-based and may even have 10-15 titles to be awarded every year.

Gyan Ratna would be an aspirational title awarded by the Ministry of HRD to educators, irrespective of their nationality, who have made exemplary contributions in the field education and research in India.

This would include three segments:
1. academicians based abroad and committing to come back
2. academicians already based in India but making global impact
3. foreign academicians engaging with India

Basic criteria need to be defined to ensure that title holders are achievers in their field of work and are committed to contributing to Indian education sector. It would have both a qualitative and quantitative evaluation system where a point-based system may weigh several criteria including PhD earned in India or abroad, number of citations, number of years of experience in higher education, commitment for working in India etc. The qualitative selection process should be non-political and peer-review based.

Of course, a title alone would not attract the best talent and would need support from other strategies like availability of an ecosystem of research and decent salary levels, however, Gyan Ratna would create aspirations and attractiveness for one of the noble professions which is in dire need of quality and professionalism.

What are your thoughts/comments/suggestions?

Dr. Rahul Choudaha