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Return of the native

No one goes to an Indian Institute of Technology (IIT) to become an engineer. That might seem a bit of an epigram considering that the IITs are the country’s leading engineering colleges. Yes, they offer courses in the pure sciences too and, more recently, management. But their raison d’être has always been engineering.

Take a look at where most of the graduates have ended up and you will get a different picture. The Indian Institutes of Management (IIMs) are full of IIT engineers. Those who can’t make it to these elite institutions go abroad. (IIMs have always been preferred over foreign colleges, but the lack of scholarships and financial support until recently have made the latter the easier option.)

People tend to go abroad not for more of engineering; they choose courses that give them a wider perspective. The trouble with the IITs always was that they groomed students to work as cogs in a public sector wheel in some distant factory. Marketing, finance and management were unheard of subjects. That’s changing now, but the IITs still have a long way to go.

In a sense, the IITs have always been a filter. The IIMs are a further filter. For recruiting companies, this is no guarantee of domain knowledge. And they know it. But they also know they are getting someone with intelligence and (thanks to the two years at IIM) the ability to use it in real-life situations.

Make no mistake, these elite institutes give you a perfectly good education. The only problem is what they produce is not what they were set up for. Ask Larsen & Toubro chairman A.M. Naik. The head of the engineering major is complaining that IITians are deserting their profession to do coding in IT companies simply because they pay better. But nobody thinks it strange that qualified engineers are abandoning their professional ship. Wouldn’t there be eyebrows raised if doctors deserted in droves to become IT professionals or BPO workers?

The fact that many engineers would prefer to widen their horizon was implicit in their leaving India in droves. The brain drain was because the US offered more opportunity, Today, things seemed to have reversed. IITians are not only more prone to stay in India, they are also coming back.

In 2004, the American Electronics Association came out with a report titled Losing the Competitive Advantage: The Challenge for Science and Technology in the US. America, it said, was falling off the flat earth. “Even if the US were doing everything right, the world still poses unprecedented competitive challenges. Ensuring future prosperity depends on decisions that move us forward today. As the legendary Wayne Gretzky once said, ‘I skate to where the puck is going, not to where it’s been’.”

A study by IIT, Chennai, looked at it from the Indian point of view. The reversal of the brain drain, it posited, was because of:

Now comes a study by eValueserve, a leading provider of knowledge process outsourcing (KPO) services, which throws more light on current trends. “Among IITians who graduated during 1964 and 2001, 35 per cent moved to countries other than India, while 65 per cent remained. However, among IITians who graduated in 2002 and later, only 16 per cent moved while 84 per cent remained in India. Recent graduates also believe India will be the most promising geography for IIT graduates in 10 years.”

What are the domain preferences of these IITians? Technology is still on top, 40 per cent of the 2002-2008 graduates choosing it against 48 per cent of the 1964-2001 graduates. But consultancy is growing (19 per cent against 7 per cent). Entrepreneurship has moved up marginally (15 per cent vs 13 per cent). And financial services has jumped from 2 per cent to 11 per cent.

These days finance has the best-paying jobs. They may not have finance courses at the IITs, but they sure teach you how to count.

How IITians see their job prospects

There has been a significant increase in IITians who believe careers in consulting and financial services are the most promising.

The percentage of graduates moving into academics has been declining.

A substantial portion of respondents still believe that an entrepreneurial career offers the most exciting opportunity both today and 10 years into the future.

(Source: eValueserve)

Which area offers the most exciting prospects? (%)

India 72
US 17
Europe 5
China 2
Others 4

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