Volume 6, No. 4, April 2005


Brain Drain: An Imperialist Onsluaght



Knowledge is a resource. Like how we must dig the earth for fetching the ore and extract metal from it. Like how we nurture a plant with adequate water, fertilizers and allow enough sunshine to grow into a good strong tree. So also, knowledge is acquired after observation or hypotheses, analyses, experimentation or testing and finally application. And knowledge of one particular profession needs the proverbial "burning of the midnight oil", hard mental labour and extensive research. Finally, man utilizes his knowledge for the services of the community he belongs to. But sadly enough, just as the imperialists control the political systems of the weaker third world countries, they continue robbing them of their resource of knowledge base, chiefly by brain drain.

"Brain drain" is the exodus of skilled professionals — physicians, engineers, scientists, educators — from less developed countries to the more developed ones, causing some very serious damage to the communities they leave behind. And the worst is that underdeveloped nations lose the very people they can least afford to — the skilled and educated, who largely contribute to the crucial services like health and economy along with creating newer jobs.

For example, the number of African scientists and engineers employed in the United States is more than that in entire Africa — leaving the continent of 600 million people with just 20,000 engineers and scientists. The United Nations calls brain drain one of the greatest threats to economic development in the sub-Saharan Africa.

How do people left behind get affected?

Health Care

One of the most critically affected areas, healthcare systems in the underdeveloped countries are on the brink of collapse "even as these countries continue to send many of their healthcare workers abroad," says the United Nations. For example:

a) A few years ago, Zambia had 1,600 doctors. Today, this number has dwindled to a mere 400.

b) More than 2l,000 doctors from Nigeria are working in the U.S. This, while Nigeria itself suffers from a shortage of healthcare workers.

c) Sixty percent of Ghana’s doctors left during the 1980s, leaving the healthcare system in critical condition.

d) Exodus of health professionals from Sierra Leone is expected to soon lead to the closure of several health facilities in that country. Seventy percent of graduates from the country’s College of Medicine and Allied Sciences have left for "greener pastures".

e) Serious shortage of doctors and nurses in Zimbabwe has led to clinics being run by inexperienced staff like nurse-aides, who cannot administer certain drugs to patients. 18,000 nurses from Zimbabwe work abroad.

f) One-third of Ethiopia’s general practitioners left between 1988 and 2001 and the country’s Gondar Medical Science College had to close five departments.

g) One-third to one-half of South African medical graduates emigrate.

h) The number of unfilled positions in Czech hospitals has tripled over the last three years, with more than 500 posts now vacant.

The list is endless.

Scientists, Engineers, and Other Skilled Professions

Mexico claims that 79% of science students it sponsors for studying abroad, never return. While twelve percent of its labour force lives in the U.S., 30 percent of Mexicans with PhDs also live there. About 75 percent of Jamaicans with higher education stay in the U.S. An estimated 20 percent of skilled South Africans have already left it and 70 percent are considering leaving. Zimbabwe’s once revered mining industry is facing imminent collapse as a result of lost manpower.

Four out of every ten Indian software developers are working in the U.S. In 1998, the renowned Indian Institute of Technology sent 30 percent of all of its graduates to the U.S., including 80 percent of its computer science graduates.

The International Labour Organisation has forewarned that as many intellectuals are leaving Colombia, the country is losing competitiveness and facing economic collapse.

In a bid to replace this lost labour, underdeveloped countries are then forced to hire professionals from developed countries, but at a higher cost. The United Nations reports that India loses two billion dollars a year due to the exodus of skilled labour to the U.S. alone. Africa spends an estimated four billion dollars annually to replace lost talent.

Countries also incur a net financial loss when their professional workers leave and they no longer contribute to their home country’s income-tax base. A study of professional migration from India to the U.S. found that the annual tax revenue loss was to the tune of $700 million, twelve percent of the country’s total income base for the year. With each migrating professional, Africa loses $184,000.

Departure of skilled professionals can decrease the need for unskilled labour by decreasing the demand for the goods and services the skilled professionals would have otherwise required. In South Africa, for each professional who leaves, as many as ten unskilled jobs are destroyed. Additionally, the negative effect of the loss of professional workers is compounded, as neither they are creating wealth for their native country nor are they passing their skills to future generations.

Brain drain in Indian context

The main motto of education in a semi-feudal, semi-colonial country like India is — to serve the interests of the imperialists who control it. To exploit the cheap labour, the market and the social and natural resources, the imperialists preserve and exploit that system of education which serves them best. Brain drain is another feature in our education and social system which shows the imperialist onslaught.

(a) Brain Drain In Basic Research:

We know that it is the comprador character of our bourgeoisie that makes them act like extended production or marketing units of their overseas bosses. All the spending announced by Indian industries in the name of research and development is mere eyewash to save taxes. Scientist and engineers involved in R & D activity are only 157 per 1,000,000 people in India, according to UNDP 2003 (Table: 1) The corresponding figures in developed countries like the US, Japan, Germany are 4,099, 5,095 and 3,161 respectively.

India’s net spending in R&D is 1.2% of its GDP, while developed countries spend more than 2% of their GDP. So, the number of patents and earnings through royalty and licence fees of developed countries is much higher than the underdeveloped and poor countries. Even much of the R&D in India goes only to service imperialist research projects.

According to structural adjustment program initiated by the Congress government in the 1990s, the IMF & WB instructed our policymakers to spend more on primary and vocational education than higher education. Though all these sections of educational spending are required for a country’s self-reliance, imperialists did not want to let the third world countries to develop their own technology. So, any IMF/WB loan/aid came in with clear pre-condition that the expenditure on technology development in education must be reduced.

Instead, the third world nations were instructed to give priority to vocational education and information technology so that the capitals’ need of cheap software professionals and other skilled workforce can be mitigated at the public cost of the third world countries. As discussed earlier, comprador capitalists in third world countries don’t spend in R&D as they buy technology from TNCs. Since the government has marginalized expenditure on R&D, the probability of getting an employment in India for a Masters /doctorate /post-doctorate students in her/his field of interest becomes bleak.

This situation creates a pressure on the "BEST and BRIGHTEST" of the students not to opt for basic science in India as their career. Instead they migrate either to engineering degree, which will give them a chance to jump onto the software bandwagon and work for the imperialists, or to get a student visa for the U.S. or some other developed country for a masters/doctorate/post-doctorate there, later secure a working visa (H-1B) and eventually develop technology for the imperialists. For past 3 years, India has been sending the maximum number of ‘foreign students’ to the U.S. Only half of foreign doctorate and post-doctorate students studying in the U.S. return to their home countries within two years of finishing studies. Almost a quarter of all the H-1B visa holders in 2000 had previously possessed American student visas. (Mario Cervantes and Dominique Geullec, "The Brain Drain: Old Myths, New Realities," OECD Observer, May 7, 2002. The Economist, op. cit).

Table2: Foreign students enrolling in the US (1992-2004)


 World total student

 Indian student






















A detailed study of the table above shows the growing trend of Indian students heading for higher studies in the U.S. The number of students have increased double-fold in 1990s. A meaty chunk of this population will or have secured H1-B visas (working visas) and later on "GREEN CARDS". The annual number of PhDs in engineering and technology in India is 5,000 and we can easily see the brain drain to the U.S. when we compare this to our annual figures. According to UNDP 2001, of the 81,000 U.S. visas approved between October 1999 and 2000, 40 percent were for Indians, of whom more than half were computer-related professionals, a sixth for sciences and engineering.

Thus the so called "BEST and BRIGHTEST" are lured away. Their basic education may be financed by the people of third world but their contribution to newer technologies is enjoyed by the imperialists, who use these very technologies for further exploitation.

(b) Migration of Software Professionals From 1990:

United Nations, July 10, 2001 (PTI)): "India loses $ 2 billion a year in resources through the brain-drain of 100,000 skilled computer professionals to US alone," said a Human Development report released by the UN today. The report further emphasized that…"By providing IT education – India’s English-language technical colleges turn out over 73,000 graduates a year - and by investing in infrastructure the Government has ensured India’s place in the new economy."

Parallel to the shifting of labor-intensive industries like automobile, textile, leather, footwear et al, to the underdeveloped countries for maximising their profits, global capital began to exploit the soft-skilled professionals of underdeveloped countries. This was done so that imperialist countries can better maintain their global business empires through improved communication and software techniques. Post structural adjustment programs taken up in 1980s and 1990s, they had already secured the required supply of skilful but not critical software professionals from third world. Therefore, the flow of manpower from India since 1990 onwards is concentrated in software and Information technology (IT).

IT professionals are not very highly skilled in creating a paradigm shift in any economy or science or the society. In essence, they are not agents of technological or qualitative changes in production processes leading to socio-economic revolution. But they can potentially earn more profit for the trans-nationals in this age of "globalisation and connectivity". The point is the intrinsic worth of hordes of IT professionals deserting India is not as high as that of trained scientists or technologists. Any engineer with a six-month training can do most IT jobs. And this is what is happening. India is loosing engineering and technical professionals to IT. So, while US and UK engineers have stuck to their own technical fields, the dirty but talent-intensive IT work is dumped on Indian professionals.

In response to the tremendous demand for skilled workers, the U.S. implemented a selective, temporary unmigration policy for skilled workers during the 1990s that resulted in a dramatic change in the flow of human capital from India to the U.S. As on March 2001, more than a million Indian-born individuals were residing in the United States — more than double since 1990. (Figure: 1).

Of these 1 million US resident Indians, more than half were in the fiscally sought-after 25 to 44-year-old group and more than three-quarters of the working age population had a bachelor’s degree or better. Indeed, an estimated 38 percent of this age group had masters, professional, or doctorate degrees, compared to just 9 percent of bachelor’s degree in the native-born U.S population.

In fact, Indian-born residents of the U.S. are four times as likely to have a graduate degree as the natives and their median income is 16% higher than the median income of the natives. A population that is only 0.1% of that of India has an aggregate income of 10% of the Indian national income. Moreover, the human capital intensity of the outflow of Indians to the U.S. has increased substantially during the 1990s.

Of the Indians who came since 1990 and were still in the U.S. at the end of the decade, an estimated 78 had a bachelor’s degree or better — 21 points more than the group that came during the 1980s and were still in the U.S. at the end of 1990. The results demonstrate that the 1990s group differed markedly from contemporary immigrants from other countries and from previous groups of Indian-born immigrants. The myriad consequences of these developments for underdeveloped countries include the direct loss of the fiscal contribution of these highly-skilled individuals. The loss of talent to India during the 1990s was dramatic and highly concentrated amongst the prime-age work force, the highly educated and high earners. The net fiscal loss associated with the U.S. Indian-born resident population ranges from 0.24% to 0.58% of Indian GDP in 2001. (Desai, Kapoor Harvard University 2001)

(c) The Latest Brain Drain Technique: Business Process Outsourcing (BPO)

The latest trend in brain drain is outsourcing In this era of internet and long-distance telephony, it is no longer necessary for the TNCs to retain the third world manpower in the first world and shell out first world rates. Instead, it is more profitable to outsource the business process to English/French/German/Spanish speaking population of the third world countries who will do the job of a first world worker at 1/20th of the original cost.

Many an Indian comprador bourgeoisie and multinationals have started their BPO arms in full swing. It is estimated that 78% of Indian engineers from Mechanical, Electrical, Electronics, Civil, Instrumentation, Chemical and Biomedical engineering leave their field and work for the BPO arms of TCS, Wipro etc. Most talented students are running after the dollar-driven outsourcing work from the US or UK, working and learning IT and/or call-centre work.

English-speaking non-technical students from other fields of studies are also joining these call-centres. Thus, the imperialists are using the public spending in our education system to serve their designs. Our drug companies are also in the process of outsourcing of talent in fields like drug research and manufacturing. The European Commission communication published on 16, June, 2004, which called for increased co-operation between the EU and India in fields like biotech, declares ‘The EU is the world’s second largest centre of biotech research activity after the USA. Indian biotech has been advancing rapidly in the past few years. Its next challenge is to successfully integrate the Indian biotech industry with the global biotech innovation system’.

"With the global industry’s current focus on accelerating productivity, collaboration is the way forward for several American and European companies faced by resource constraints. With its abundant high quality-low cost technical manpower, India is emerging as a partner of choice," explains Utkarsh Palnitkar, health sciences industry leader at Ernst & Young India.


The phenomena of brain drain is manipulated and controlled by global capital to suit its purpose and increase profit margins. The poor in our country and other third world nations are bearing the cost of education of their "Best and Brightest", but missing out on the social contribution they could make on their native country. So, to stop brain drain, we must repeal the imperialists’ new economic policies, that are pushing the world market into every facet of our lives along with opposing the semi-colonial semi feudal system, which is happily collaborating with the imperialists.





Home  |  Current Issue  |  Archives  |  Revolutionary Publications  |  Links  |  Subscription

<<  Previous Issue  |  Next Issue  >>