India as Knowledge Society- Dream or reality?

Last Auto Expo 2008 was unique in one respect. It provided a feel-good factor to visitors about the capability of the Indian engineers working in automobile industry. India can’t only produce automobiles to world standard in scale large enough to meet the demand, but also can develop new globally competitive products that are exportable too to rich as well as poor countries all over the globe.

‘Nano’ created a new perception about India’s design and development capability on the global auto industry. Bajaj Auto showcased its indigenously designed small car that appeared to be pretty mature design, and Maruti Suzuki exhibited its next global subcompact locally designed car. The designers got a lot of accolades from the media and auto experts. DC Design too is making its presence felt with global clients.

India is also becoming a global production base. Hyundai is the most successful among the MNC car manufacturers. Car major Hyundai Motor India (HMIL) has received 60,000 export orders for its small car ‘i10’, which was launched in October 2007.
India has a great potential in R&D. The public sector organizations such as Atomic Energy Commission, ISRO, DRDO, and CSIR have proven its might in different areas, though with the usual shortcomings of public sector. As reported, ‘after losing close to 1,500 scientists to much greener pastures of corporate world just since 2002, DRDO is stepping up its ‘talent search scheme’ to lure NRIs into its fold through some ‘reverse brain drain’. It appears to be good news for the country. Scientists are in demand and private sectors are increasing their investment in R&D. Without innovations and new product development that can come only through strong R&D, it will be difficult for them to survive and grow in globalised market. And it is a new development that reverse brain drain has started and that too with government agencies. DRDO has already netted at least 40 PhDs and M.Techs working in academics or industry in countries like US, UK, Japan and Sweden.

Some data about the R&D of the country may show India still lacking behind in R&D:

Number of core researchers in India was about 1.5 lakh as compared to China’s 8-10 lakh.

Number of persons doing research and development in Scandinivian countries is 7,000 per million of population and 4,700 per million of population in US. In India, there are 156 researchers per million of population.

R&D spending as percentage of GDP in India is only 0.8% as compared to China’s 1.23. Developed countries have R&D expenditure of upto 3% of GDP.

Of the 0.8% expenditure in India, 80% is by public sector while the private sector share is only 20%. In China and US, the public sector share is only 30% each while in Japan it is only 18%.

Even the Budget 2008 has taken steps to create an atmosphere for attracting students to science courses and researches. UGC is taking steps to improve the quality of research in education institutes. Even time and again media report about some outstanding by Indian scientists that are inspiring.

Physicist Basanta Nandi, from IIT, Mumbai has emerged as the world’s ‘hottest’ reasearcher for 2007, according to annual the league tables published by academic publisher Thomson Scientific.

American tech guru Amar Bose joins inventors who gave the world the television remote control (Robert Adler), electrocardiograph (Willem Einthoven), hip replacement surgery (John Charnley), and Containerized Shipping (Malcolm McLean) in the national scroll. The only other Indian in the Inventors’ Hall of Fame is Rangaswamy Srinivasan, a former IBM scientist named for his pioneering work on excimer laser surgery.

Shivani Sud , a teenage Indian-American student from North Carolina who began to take interest in cancer research when she was six won the prestigious Intel Science Talent Search, annual competition often termed the “junior Nobel Prize”. Shivani Sud, 17, a Durham high school student, was awarded a $100,000 college scholarship during a ceremony in Washington on Tuesday for her research to improve colon cancer treatment. Sud was among the seven high school students of Indian origin who made the list of 40 finalists in the annual Intel competition that attracted some 1600 high school seniors nationwide.

India can be a knowledge hub for the world, if its institutions get more autonomous, change its mindsets for becoming the best in the world and start demanding all the possible assistance from its alumni and industry instead of depending on government.

PS: Scientists can make money too. Innocentive, an online network that connects companies, academic institutions and non-profit organizations, is known for linking problem-solvers and solution-seekers by granting cash awards up to $1 million for creative solutions in business, entrepreneurship, chemistry, engineering and design, lifesciences, maths, computer science and physical sciences.

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