Skip to Content

Beryl Lieff Benderly

Look Homeward, Scientists

We’ve just reported on a scientist-founded satirical group called Americans for a More American America. Now Inside Higher Ed is reporting in a serious vein on what I suppose could be called “Indians for a More Indian India.” It’s a proposed plan for the Indian Institute of Technology (IIT) in the northern city of Kanpur — one of the celebrated IITs that are the country’s most prestigious scientific universities — establish an office in the United States to lure some of the many Indian-born scientists working or studying on American campuses back home to faculty posts in their native country.

Unlike at comparable institutions in the U.S., where hiring is highly competitive, at IIT Kanpur, one in three faculty slots goes unfilled, writes Inside Higher Ed’s Kaustuv Basu. This faculty shortage reportedly limits the courses and research projects the institution can undertake. 

Low salaries and high levels of bureaucracy are major factors that discourage many Indian Ph.D.s from returning to become professors in their home country. The office, tentatively slated for Washington, D.C., or New York City, would have access to private funds to boost the salaries offered to new hires at the government-supported IIT.

Plans to establish the office are not yet definite, and whether it could succeed at its mission is even less clear. However, given the current debate over high-skill immigration in the United States, it’s interesting to speculate on what might happen if the office does succeed in attracting talent to IIT. Who would fill the positions that homeward-bound Indians vacate? What effect might their departure have on the brutally tight faculty job market here in the United States? If expanded faculties allow more extensive offerings at the IITs, would fewer Indians come here as students, postdocs or professors in the first place?

Should the office actually come into existence, I suspect that many people in both countries will be watching with great interest.