Science, R&D and Prime Minister

A Prime Minister is really under strains and stresses, facing hundreds of problems of this most populous democracy on the globe. He can have an honest intention and so promises but can also expect to be excused for not keeping a tab on the implementation. India and its prime minister wish to be a super power. Why should it not? If China can, why can’t we?

Recently, it appeared Manmohan Singh was morose once he came to know of the India’s status of R&D in comparison to China while preparing a speech for the 99th India Science Congress at Bhubaneswar. His speech made us more morose. He himself gave a lot of real facts on education and R&D in India.

“The number of scientific publications by Indian scientists working in India has increased at more than 12% per annum against the global average of 4% over the last few years,. India has moved from the 15th rank in 2003 to the 9th rank in 2010 with respect to the number of publications in peer valued journals.

The University of Rajasthan leads among the top 50 Indian scientific institutions in citations per paper under international collaboration.

India produces 8,900 PhDs annually in science and engineering, three thousand more than five years ago.”

Manmohan was perhaps trying to prove how hard his government worked for improving R&D in India.

India’s R&D-spend has remained lower than 1% for more than a decade now, 0.65% in 1996, 0.75% in 2001, 0.89% in 2006, 0.8% in 2009 and 0.9% in 2010. And Manmohan promised that ‘the total R&D spending as a percentage of GDP would increase to 2 per cent by the end of the XII Plan Period from the current level of about 0.9 per cent.

Manmohan also expressed his unhappiness that ‘Industry contributed only 25 per cent of the total R&D expenditure today, and must increase its contribution’.

“GE and Motorola have created world class technology hubs in India, while India’s own industry has not done so, except perhaps in the pharma sector.”

Will his promise of the increased government investment in R&D get materialized? Interestingly, as reported, Manmohan promised the same what Atal did few years ago on the same platform.

Will Manmohan sit with the Indian CEOs of technology companies, convince them and take a positive commitment and ask his minister of science and technology to monitor and be accountable?

If Manmohan is pained with ‘the recent survey of 2000 Indian women PhD holders in science that had found 60% of them unemployed’, will he ask some agency to investigate and find out the ways and means to improve the situation?

Manmohan Singh passed on some good news too about girls and women.

“49.6% of the INSPIRE awardees are girls. More than 60% of INSPIRE fellows pursuing doctoral research are women.” These are all improving performances. Unfortunately, the competitors have gone ahead. India will have to have a strong strategy to catch up.

“The country’s Agni Missile programme has a women scientist — Tessy Thomas at the helm and for the first time last year three women scientists received the Shanti Swarup Bhatnagar Prize as compared to total 11 women awardees for all the years since 1958 upto last year.

A proposal to build national capacity and capability in supercomputing will be implemented by the Indian Institute of Science, Bangalore at an estimated cost of Rs5, 000 crore.

Another proposal is there to set up a Neutrino Observatory at Theni in Tamil Nadu at a cost of Rs1,350 crore to study the fundamental particles that form the universe.

Tribals of Koraput region received global recognition for conservation of bio-diversity and developing climate resilient farming systems.”

China has 16 universities in the top 500 (13 in engineering, 1 in medicine and 1 in social sciences) while India has just 2. China has 6.8% of the world’s top 500 universities and accounts for 19.8% of global population—India’s figures are 0.4% and 17.1%, respectively.

India’s gross enrolment ratio in higher education has gone up—from a dismal 5% in 1980 to 12.5% in 2007 to 17.27% in 2009-10—with the rise in GDP growth. But India requires hundreds of new universities and thousands of colleges and must focus on the quality of teaching and research.

It is not bad to make China as benchmark for adding capacity, but the system must be designed to ensure the quality of the new institutes as we;; as for improving the existing ones.

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