One leg of an IITian is in India, the other in Air India, went a popular wisecrack in the late 1980s and early '90s.Every year hundreds of freshly minted engineers from these highly rated institutes would fly westward. This time, the template followed by several graduating classes was dis rupted as many turned down international job offers.

Not even 200 of the approximate 10,000 students from the Indian Institutes of Technology took up positions outside India last year. Fifty students, who make up the largest con tingent, will be leaving from IIT-Bombay, followed by 40 from Delhi, 25 from Kharagpur, 19 from Kanpur, 13 from Madras, 17 from Roorkee and five from Guwahati. In 2012, 84 IIT-B candidates had accepted international job offers.

“Compared to 20 years ago, a very small percentage of students go abroad today. This is contrary to the general perception,“ says IIT-Delhi director V Ramgopal Rao. “Twenty years ago, 80% of the BTech class used to go abroad. Now these numbers are insignificant.“ The count was larger last year, though not drama tically different. While the first phase of placements has concluded, the ensuing edition is unlikely to have international companies flying down to campuses.

“When we asked companies why they were coming to campus with fewer offers, they said that their requirement was lower and profiles too had changed, “said professor Kaustubha Mohanty , convenor of the All-IIT Placement Committee.

But that may not be the entire story. Deepak Phatak, chair professor at IIT-Bombay, said that the real question is how many IITians applied for international jobs.

“A large number of our students are not seeking jobs outside India,“ he said. In fact, Phatak was concerned about the quality of graduates when international offers started dwindling a few years ago.

“So I conducted exit interviews and found that students perceive that the land of opportunity is here, “ he said.Moreover, with global companies setting up offices in India, students can join Google in Bennigana Halli in Bengaluru instead of Mountain View, California.

In the early '90s, the outflow of computer science graduates to the US was so high that the World Bank, in a report, had suggested that an exit tax be imposed on IIT-ians and other professionals leaving the country-this, it said, could earn the government over $1 billion (about Rs 4,400 crore then) per annum.

This year, the US, which used to attract most candidates, has been piped by Japan.For instance, 35 students from IIT-B are headed to the Far East as compared to 10 who are going to the USA (see box).

The concern that statesubsidised educated talent was flying off to the West to build a foreign economy and driving innovation and entrepreneurship there, gave birth to the aching term--brain drain. The turn of events has led to a new expression, the euphonious “brain circulation“.

“A small percentage (less than 15% of a graduating batch) of students goes abroad for higher studies. Others stay back, “said IIT-Guwahati director Gautam Biswas.“Many graduates keep moving between countries abroad and India. Indeed, brain drain is a myth now, one may call the paradigm brain circulation. “