Thought Starter

The Great Indian Brain Drain

How real is the problem of brain drain in India? At 17.5 million, there’s a reason the Indian diaspora is the largest in the world. “Non-residential” Indians are becoming “not-returning” Indians, and even the “reverse brain drain” has stopped. We explore the reasons why

For starters, all of us would have that uncle or aunt who’d be living in the U.S., U.K. or Canada. This yearning to taste and live life in a Western country, is not from the bygone era. Over the years, millions of young talented Indians from various disciplines have left our soil in search of better opportunities. For a long time, the idea of people moving to a different country was seen as a badge of honour, a feather in the cap as it were. The most singularly pursued dream. And this was primarily because India was unable to offer those prospects to its citizens. It’s not that we’re adequately able to, right now as well. So is India’s brain drain problem getting worse?

The Great Indian Brain Drain

Overseas university education has been a favourite among Indian students for a very long time. As of 2018, nearly 7,53,000 Indian students were studying abroad. Several news reports suggest that more than half of the first rankers in Class 10 and Class 12 examinations during 1996-2015 had migrated and were studying or employed overseas, mostly in the US. The toppers are just the tip of an iceberg of student migration. There’s this growing sense of dissatisfaction generally, among the students that the current Indian education system is inept at preparing them for the challenges of the increasingly globalised world. The lack of innovative courses is drawing a lot of young students to leave Indian shores for better education overseas.

A major reason why India’s young, skilled labour force leaves is in search of better rewards for their effort and talent. And, better salaries are not the only motive for the out-of-India migration of skilled professionals, it’s the overall social safety net that is one of the main reasons for families to relocate out of India. While the U.S. continues to be the favorite destination, Canada is quickly catching up. The idea of a welfare state where a family’s basic needs of education and health are taken care of or are available at quite an affordable price, is too good an offer for someone to refuse.     

When it comes to Brian Drain, it’s not just the students or young skilled professionals who are eager to go abroad. But now there’s another emerging trend among the millennials who, for one, are leaving India for mental peace and the freedom to live the way they want to, without the rigid societal diktats and rules which the Indian society thrusts down our throats. Yes, things have changed in India, but the pace of social change has been quite sluggish, to say the least; while the world over, especially in the West, the pace of change seems far more rapid. 

It’s not that there was never a reverse trend. In fact, a decade ago there was a slump in people, especially skilled professionals leaving Indian shores for abroad. This can be attributed to the digital boom in the country along with a bevee of entrepreneurial ventures flooding India’s techno ecosystem.  But since 2015, there’s again been a rise in the number of people leaving India.


There are a number of measures which the Indian government is taking to plug brain drain, such as prioritising skill development through its National Skill Development Mission that aims to train approximately 400 million people across the country by 2022. But this won’t be able to stop the movement completely. It would be folly to look at brain drain through a narrow prism such as the one mentioned above. The urgent need is to first understand what is compelling people to leave India. There are a lot of questions we need to ask ourselves as a country. The questions about quality of life, employment opportunities, social structure, financial and social security, development, gender equality, freedom in all walks of life. Do we have them all? Because if even one goes amiss, the yearning to break free and seek it in a different country will keep compelling many Indians to leave India.


Credits - 

Research, Anchor, Writer Producer: Pragya Saini

Editor: Sajat Ali, Mushtaq Shah

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