Chandni Chowk to China


PM Manmohan Singh recently noted that, though India has gained popularity in the IT sector, it is lagging behind China in terms of research. What could be the reason, and what is the solution? Youth Inc finds out
For a few years now, the world has been especially cognisant of two developing economies: India and China. However, a claim by one of our highest authorities that our neighbour to the north is superior to us in science, has inspired quiet unrest in academic circles. India has always come out on top in computer science and IT. Actually, not quite, now! China has taken over as the leader in computer sciences among developing countries, despite the fact that India’s trade volume in IT comes in to be at a whopping $63.7 billion. In the past few years, Indian scientists have published about 25,400 academic papers on the subject, while the same figure for China is an intimidating 2,22, 900! These numbers have been collated from the 2006-2010 data from SciVal Spotlight, a research tool developed by scientific publisher Elsevier.

Emotions were further stirred when Prime Minister Manmohan Singh commented that “India’s relative position in the world of science had been declining and we have been overtaken by countries like China,” at the 99th Indian National Science Congress in Bhubhaneshwar earlier this year. Though intended to laud the scientific advances of our country, Singh’s inaugural talk at the congress came interspersed with hard facts and subtle hints as to why research in India lags behind that in the other parts of the world.

“As far as resources are concerned, the fraction of GDP spent on R&D in India has been too low and stagnant. We must aim to increase the total R&D spending as a percentage of GDP to two per cent by the end of the XII Plan Period from the current level of about 0.9 per cent,” he said. The news, though not very surprising has created a feeling of disharmony in academic circles, since many are trying hard to reach global levels. Youth Inc asked those in the education sector for possible explanations and solutions.
“It is simple. The reason is that all R&D efforts by the Indian industry, whether in the private or in the public sector, are just mere ways of using the tax payer’s money to their own advantage. They do not want to find any conclusive results as such,” says a disgruntled Sukumar Sharma, who was cheated by not only his guide, but also his institution, while he was pursuing his PhD.

In fact, that is the reason why the PM had to acknowledge that India is lagging behind China and many other countries, and that during the last decade or so there has been no increase in spending towards R&D. “This statement that comes straight from one of the highest authorities of the country becomes a matter of concern. Especially since, as a country, India has always been popular in science, and is way ahead of most of the world in information technology,” says computer science graduate and entrepreneur Nirav Shah, who taught a few courses at a polytechnic last year.
Many feel that as long as the GDP for education is not increased in the budget, we as a country will certainly lag behind in the development of education and research. This will particularly happen in the case of fundamental research in science as it requires the latest technologies for empirical research. It is certainly not surprising that we lag behind many nations in the field of education. “Indian colleges and universities have a long way to go before they can produce graduates that are employable. The issue is not just money, but also freedom. I think there are numerous administrators who are capable of taking their institutions to the next level. However, they have neither the incentive nor the mandate to work towards it. Freeing the institutions from such redundant regulations will help them seek their own path,” says a professor of computer engineering.
Many note the importance of financial resources from the government to help establish India’s own world-class institutions. India is caught between the goal of educating its masses and being a world leader in higher education, but it does not have to choose between them. “The government has spent a lot of money to set up the new IITs, but the step is too little too late. The focus should be on improving production, quality with lesser cost,” says Dr Anshul Kundaje, who completed his doctoral studies in computer science and now teaches.
The last word, however, comes from a student: “I think it is because of the lack of good universities, infrastructure, salaries, facilities, work culture and fun. Most of the bright minds, including those in physics, engineering, math, economics, medicine or law want to go to reputed universities like Harvard, Yale, MIT, Stanford, Cambridge, Oxford, and the likes for higher education. Very few, if at all, come back.” India is not capable of retaining the best minds because our country cannot provide either the infrastructure or the funding that developed countries like the US, UK, Canada, Australia, Switzerland, offer. Apart from academic infrastructure, these countries also provide better living conditions, opportunities for pleasure, freedom and liberty, competitive salaries, and more or less hassle-free societies. This leads to a sense of responsibility towards the nation. What does India provide? Communal unrest, most likely politically motivated; reservation based on castes and class, misappropriation of hard earned tax payer money, even when one has to fight for electricity and clean water, and an assurance that you are on your own when in trouble. Not happening, sir. Just seeding more money will not work. It has to be complemented with many more things. Just think about it.

Volume 1 Issue 10


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