The prime minister’s lament at the 99th Indian Science Congress that China has overtaken India in the field of science should not surprise anyone.
China has always been ahead of India in the spread and standards of science education, measured by the number of scientific personnel and research work force, institutions of education and research, published papers and patents.
It also has an effective system in which the fruits of education and research are made use of by the industry. India has not fared well even against some less developed countries and so comparisons with China, Japan and others do not make sense. This is when the country has the world’s largest young population and when many Indians have proved that they can match the best scientific talent in the world, but only when they go abroad.
India’s R&D expenditure is a fraction of a per cent while it is 2.5 per cent in developed countries. The hope to raise it to at least 2 per cent was always there and was set as a target in Plan documents. The prime minister has again mentioned it. The entire science education and research system will have to be overhauled for this. Infrastructure and facilities are poor, the system is bureaucratic and hierarchical and there is no fruitful connection between teaching and research and between research and industry.
Even when industry has done research it is mostly, as in the case of drug manufacturing, reverse engineering or re-engineering. Original research has been scarce and the temptation to buy products ready made has prevailed, for various reasons. Crucial areas like defence have also suffered because of this.
The best students should be attracted to research and they should be incentivised and encouraged. A recent report said 60 per cent of Indian women with a doctorate in science are unemployed. Universities and industry should be encouraged to undertake more research and the government’s research institutes should be made more accountable. Science education and research and industry should have an umbilical relationship and they should complement each other.
The prime minister rightly pointed out that western corporates have set up world class technology hubs in India, using Indian talent, while Indian industry has not. Allocation of more funds, their proper utilisation and accent on original research are the keys to getting ahead in science.