In one of the first positive steps to prevent brain drain, the Government of India has announced a scheme to fund science scholars so that they are able to continue their post-doctoral research, after completing their PhDs in India.
This flagship scheme is called the SERB – National Post-Doctoral Fellowship (N-PDF) and was launched about a month ago. In its first year, the scheme would fund around 1000 scholars. This fellowship, according to SERB (Science and Engineering Research Board), “is aimed to identify motivated young researchers and provide them support for doing research in frontier areas of science and engineering. The fellows will work under a mentor, and it is hoped that this training will provide them a platform to develop as an independent researcher.”
According to Ashutosh Sharma, Secretary, Department of Science and Technology, the scholars would be paid ₹ 50,000 per month for a period of three years and given a basic grant of ₹ 700,000 per year for conducting research. The call for applications will be notified twice a year and the first round of applications has already been invited.
“We have found that the scholars are more vulnerable to go abroad after their PhD degree because this is the time they don’t get full-time employment since many institutes ask for a post-doctoral degree. There are many universities and institutes abroad that offer the PhDs graduates with post-doctoral opportunities. This is why we have embarked upon this scheme,” Mr. Sharma said.
“Once they get a post-doctoral fellowship in India for three-years, they can continue with their research and get prepared for a job in Indian institutes and universities. Once they bag a job, the chances of their going abroad is less,” he said.
The announcement of this scheme has met with mixed responses from the community of scholars. “DBT and DST have been sponsoring postdoctoral fellowships for years now. What’s new? Sadly, they think if we provide a stipend for 3 or 5 years, it will stop brain drain. In reality, the government should create positions and hire Indian postdocs into those positions. The government is far from addressing the real issue. In most good institutions, hiring is still purely on the basis of CV quality, and thus postdocs who come from big shot labs get the position,” says Dr. Ishtapran Sahoo, a young researcher from Bangalore. He further adds, “The idea should be towards making this a sustainable plan. If after spending 5 years as a postdoc in India, one does not get a position and have to go abroad for that foreign stamp, then these schemes are a failure in fulfilling the purpose.”
Incidentally, the Ministry of Science and Technology does not have data of how many research scholars have left India and are currently working abroad.
“There are two reasons behind it. It is difficult to track the students who leave India for studies at different levels. More importantly, there is also no tracking of students coming back. Secondly, neither the Ministry of Home Affairs nor the Ministry of External Affairs have maintained data related to this,” said a senior Ministry official.
The principal areas covered under this scheme are: Chemical Sciences, Earth & Atmospheric Sciences, Engineering Sciences, Life Sciences, and Physical & Mathematical Sciences. It is tenable for a maximum period of 3 years. Mr Sharma said for bagging this fellowship the scholar has to send a research proposal. It is also mandatory that the university/ institute in which he wants to do research, has to accept the proposal.