S&T professionals emerging as ‘new global commodity’

22 August 2002 With the critical mass of skilled expertise rising in Asia, multinational companies, information technology-based services and others are finding they are able to recruit inexpensive professional staff and outsource research and technical work to developing countries. The emergence of qualified staff as a ‘new global commodity’ is offering Asia new opportunities for balancing the current asymmetry in mobility.

This is one finding of an eight-month pilot study on ‘International mobility of S&T professionals: demands and trends, impact and response’, which covered the countries of India, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh. Published by the non-governmental Committee on Science and Technology in Developing Countries (COSTED) in September 2001, the UNESCO-sponsored study ‘owes its genesis’ to the Declaration on Science and the Use of Scientific Knowledge adopted in Budapest, according to the authors.

G. Thyagarajan, Scientific Secretary of COSTED, comments that ‘mobility of S&T professionals has assumed international dimensions in recent years, for many reasons, as highlighted at the UNESCO/ICSU-sponsored World Conference on Science. The increasing interdependency of nations for technology, trade and natural and synthetic resources has catalysed movement of trained professionals to nations that attract them with better incentives than those available in their own countries’.

Paragraph 40 of the Science Agenda recommends that greater emphasis ‘be placed by governments and institutions of higher learning on engineering, technological and vocational education, also in the form of lifelong learning and through the means of international cooperation. New curriculum profiles which are consistent with the requirements of employers and attractive to youth should be defined. In order to mitigate the adverse impact of asymmetric migration of trained personnel from the developing to the developed countries and also to sustain high-quality education and research in developing countries, UNESCO could catalyse more symmetric and closer interaction of S&T personnel across the world and the establishment of world-class education and research infrastructure in the developing countries.’

The COSTED study contains country profiles and tables of data analysed on the basis of responses to three questionnaires.

The study found that government funding of education to Bachelor’s level in Sri Lanka resulted in significant loss to the government through emigration. Bangladesh on the other hand faced a serious challenge of building a critical endogenous capacity in S&T, a situation exacerbated by emigration.

Emigration of professionals poses less of a problem to India. The study notes that the large numbers of Indians living abroad has ‘considerable potential to contribute to India, provided a favourable environment is put in place. The report identifies a ‘major opportunity’ for India to identify, nurture and retain exceptional talents within the country.

There is general agreement that a better working environment, attractive salaries, state of the art infrastructure, inspiring working conditions and high-quality training – including short visits abroad – would encourage talented professionals to stay and work in their own countries.

 

COSTED hopes its study will prompt similar exercises in other developing nations. For further information, contact costed@vsnl.com