Issues involved in diffusion of knowledge through migration of scientific labour in India

By: David Wield, Dinar Kale, Joanna Chataway
Funding Body - ESRC Science in Society
Funding period - Friday 01 April 2005 to Friday 31 March 2006

In the past, ‘brain drain’ has proved to be a big curse for developing countries like India and China but in the emerging global competitive environment, the brain drain can provide crucial advantage to these formerly backward regions. Through successful diffusion of knowledge the communities of such scientists and engineers can provide the skill and know-how needed to help local firms shift higher value added activities. Such ‘knowledge transfer’ played an important role, for example, in the emergence of firms in South Korea and Taiwan to as global leaders in IT production.

Aims and objectives

This project explores the dynamics of scientific labour markets and its implications for international knowledge transfer.

The project focuses on the reverse brain back to one country: India, and back into one industry, pharmaceuticals.

Our previous research suggested that Indian firms are developing capabilities in innovative R&D by hiring Indian scientists working in multinational firms’ R&D laboratories. Building on that this project explored process of knowledge transfer through interviews with scientists who have moved back from the US to work in innovative Indian pharmaceutical firms.

Key findings

Brain circulation

India has suffered massive brain drain over the decades, mostly in the form of the migration of scientists and engineers to technologically advanced countries. These emigrants have often enjoyed impressive professional economic success. However, economic development and firms’ strategies have played a key role in converting brain drain into brain circulation, with the success of the pharmaceutical industry resulting in the movement of non-resident Indians back to India.

Firms are trying to fill knowledge gaps by hiring Indian scientists based in the United States and the UK, and working for major pharmaceutical firms.  However, they are also realising that hiring scientists is not sufficient – such knowledge must also be assimilated, and made useful.

Assimilation of the knowledge

Scientists from two generations are returning to work in Indian firms - junior scientists who have recently finished their doctoral or post-doctoral training, and senior scientists with extensive experience. The former, who are mostly concerned with learning news skills, find assimilation comparatively easy.

There is also a mismatch between the broader requirements of Indian firms - for example, skills associated with 'whole drug discovery' - and the narrower sets of skills possessed by returning scientists, most of whom have specialised knowledge in particular disciplines or therapeutic areas.

Working cultures

Differences in the working cultures of Indian and western firms are an important issue - especially in the case of returning senior scientists, used to professionally managed organisations.  By contrast, most Indian firms are family-owned and controlled, and strong on 'process' research and development skills - the legacy of the 'generic market' mindset associated with the era of 'weak' patents.

Social infrastructure

The research also shows the importance of social infrastructure on the decisions of scientists based in the United States to return to India, which suggests an important role for the government.  Indian firms have responded to this issue by adopting global R&D practices, with firms introducing more open management structures, and offering junior scientists the chance to develop management and leadership experience. Firms provided support to returnees to adjust to their new environment by facilitating settling down in a new place of living. However the findings also suggest that firms require support from government policy in attracting returnees.


Book chapters

Kale, D and Little, S (2009) ‘Globalization, Migration and Knowledge Transfer: The Reconfiguration of R&D Capability in Indian Pharmaceutical Firms’ in Pritam Singh and Subir Verma (eds.) Organizing and Managing in the Era of Globalization, Sage Publications, ISBN13: 9788132102465 

Kale, D., Wield, D., and Chataway, J., (2008) ‘Diffusion of knowledge through migration of scientific labour in India’ published in Krishna Kumar (eds.) Reverse Brain Drain: A Reality in Millennium, ICFAI publications, ISBN 9788131419441 

Journal papers

Kale, D (2009) ‘International migration, knowledge diffusion and innovation capacities in the Indian pharmaceutical industry’, New Technology, Work and Employment, ISSN 0268-1072 (Vol. 24, Issue 3, pp 260-276, special Issue: 'Building the Science and Innovation Base')

Kale, D, Wield, D and Chataway, J (2008) ‘Diffusion of knowledge through migration of scientific labour in India’, Science and Public Policy, ISSN 0302-3427, 35 (6), pp 417 – 431 

Kale, D and Little, S (2007) ‘Flows and Cohesion: balancing capabilities across an expanded union’, Mobilities Special Issues on Accessibility, mobility and connectivity: the changing frontiers of every day routine, ISSN 1745-011X, 2(1), pp.99-108



Presentations & Events

Kale, D (2013) International migration, knowledge diffusion and innovation capacities in the Indian pharmaceutical industry in workshop focused on Contemporary  expatriate communities in Africa: New opportunities for development in a rising continent?

Kale, D., Wield, D., and Chataway, J (2008) ‘International migration, knowledge flow and innovation capacities in Indian pharmaceutical Industry’, published at 10th Anniversary DRUID Summer Conference, Copenhagen 

Kale, D (2006)  'Diffusion of knowledge through migration of scientific labour in India’, EGN conference, London 

Kale, D (2005) Diffusion of knowledge through migration of scientific labour in India’, in Colloquium on Researching Innovative Themes in Skilled Mobility at the  Centre for the study of Law and Policy in Europe (CSLPE) in University of Leeds.


Dinar Kale

Email: Dinar Kale

DPP also provided wide and diverse learning platforms which helped me expand my academic base and research skills.

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