Do Indian IT Professionals agree with Vivek Wadhwa’s Thesis?
I recently had the opportunity to meet Vivek Wadhwa, who is a Fellow with the Labor and Worklife Program at Harvard Law School and Executive-in-residence at Pratt School of Engineering at Duke University. He had some interesting claims to make. Though he tends to back most of his contentions with substantial facts, Vivek’s thesis very deeply challenges general research and popular perceptions. His thesis centers on the widely discussed issue of falling U.S. competitiveness in the wake of the surge of technical workforce from India and China. I do not claim to refute or validate the views of Vivek Wadhwa here; I am merely summarizing his research and leave it for the readers to decide. The facts and figures presented here are based on Vivek Wadhwa’s Testimony to the U.S. House of Representative, Committee on Education and Workforce in 2006.
Vivek’s research emerged from a perplexing question posed by his students at Duke: Which jobs are outsourcing proof?
In an attempt to find an answer Vivek initiated research in into international engineering graduation rates and globalization trends in engineering jobs.
What did Vivek find?
Some of the most cited statics on engineering graduates were inaccurate. Typical press articles have stated that in 2004 the United States graduated roughly 70,000 undergraduate engineers, while China graduated 600,000 and India 350,000. The commonly quoted numbers are based on reports issued by the Chinese Ministry of Education and outdated reports from the National Association of Software and Service Companies (NASSCOM) in India, who are generally considered to be the authorities on engineering graduation statistics within their respective countries. However, the statistics released by these organizations have included not only four-year degrees, but also sub-baccalaureate degrees and certificate/diploma holders. These numbers have been compared against the annual production of accredited four-year engineering degrees in the United States.
The education system in India was severely crippled and politicized.
What did Vivek conclude?
India and China simply don’t graduate twelve times the numbers of engineers that the U.S. does. If the engineering graduation rates are compared to population, it is clear that the US is far ahead and will be for a few more years; and this assumes that an average American engineering graduate is equal to an average Indian or Chinese graduate.
As India and China develop their infrastructure, they will need more engineers. They need more civil engineers, electrical engineers, and mechanical engineers, for example. The U.S has already developed its infrastructure and does not need to simply match the growth rates of engineers in India and China to remain competitive.
Even though the education system in India was unimpressive, the country had invested time and effort in developing a credible workforce training program. Young graduates are recruited by Indian companies and proficiently trained by the companies equipping the former to compete with the best in the world.
Vivek claims U.S. is in the midst of a brain drain.
After attempting to dispel the myths on graduation rates in the U.S., China and India, Vivek claims that highly skilled immigrants are fast returning to home countries. This trend according to Vivek should be cause of alarm for the U.S. rather than contentious graduation comparison figures. The U.S. is seeking to concentrate on improving its basic education system, while India is utilizing workforce training as a medium to churn out qualified individuals.
While the economic downturn has caused a rise in xenophobia and the enactment of populist legislation to restrict the hiring of foreign nationals by some financial institutions, the economies of India and China have been rising. Some of the most highly skilled workers in American corporations are returning to the lands where they were born and foreign students who would normally be the next generation of U.S. science and engineering workers are buying one-way tickets home.
Among the strongest factors cited by the ex-immigrants as a reason for coming to the United States were professional and educational development opportunities. Ironically these are the very factors prompting their return to home countries. In a research conducted by Vivek, the opportunity to move up the organizational ladder pushed many immigrants to return home. Only 10 percent of the Indian returnees held senior management positions in the United States, but 44 percent found jobs at this level in India.
Contrary to popular perception, visa status was not a determining factor in the decision to return to home countries. Vivek’s survey revealed that 27 percent of Indian respondents and 34 percent of Chinese held permanent resident status or were U.S. citizens.
58% of Indian students planned to live in the U.S. for 3-5 years after the completion of their studies, while only 6% hoped to settle permanently. In the case of foreign students the visa issues did influence their choice. These students, equipped with professional training in the U.S. will be taking resultant advantages to their home countries depriving the U.S. of skilled professionals. According to Vivek the anti-immigrant groups would welcome such departures but this trend is likely to deprive the U.S. of critical qualitative economic assets.
Vivek Wadhwa in his own words:
Vivek agrees that India and China have the competitive edge but his thesis re-presents the causes for the same. Consequently the suggested remedy from the U.S. perspective is very different. According to Vivek, the anti-immigrant drive needs to be reassessed in the light of new trends with the objective of ensuring U.S. economic prominence.
The readers are welcome to support, challenge, question or simply disagree with Vivek Wadhwa’s claims.
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