Posted by: Bruce Einhorn on July 31, 2007
A year ago I wrote here on the Asiatech blog about worries among Indian policymakers and academics that, despite the achievements of the country’s IT and drugmaking companies, the country was falling far behind other Asian countries in basic science. After pointing out the growth among universities in China, I finished up the post with this: “Expect the anxiety level in India to keep rising.” A year later, what’s changed? The Indian economy is still humming, India’s software and pharma companies are still expanding, and Indian scientists are still bemoaning the sorry state of Indian science.
Consider this story from the Times of India, entitled “Pure sciences- the last priority?” The story (without a byline, at least on the online version) says that CNR Rao, the scientific advisor to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh whom I wrote about in my post last year, predicts that Indian science “will be in a dismal state in the next five years, with only a few science universities and a handful of scientists remaining.” Another example: This story in the Hindustan Times. “[The] Majority of India’s scientific and research institutions are stagnant and on ‘life support systems’ due to lack of vigorous faculty recruitment and insufficient funding, a top scientist said. And it’s a matter of concern that many of them were collectively ageing, no longer being attractive for students, and India’s academic community needs to introspect looking for reasons for the slide, said Indian Institute of Science Bangalore Director Prof P Balaram.”
I know there are readers who complain that I spend too much time comparing India to China, but I’m not the only one. According to the Times, so does Rao. “Rao pointed out that India’s performance in basic sciences had dwindled markedly both in terms of percentage of continuation to world science and percentage of high quality research papers. While China’s contribution to world science stands at 12 per cent, India lags behind with a mere three per cent and the number of high impact papers from India is less than one per cent.” (I confess, I’m not quite sure what the writer here means, but I’m guessing that the 12% number refers to the number of Chinese scientific papers published internationally as a percentage of the total, and the 3% for number of Indian papers. If anyone has a better guess, though, please let me know.) It’s not just China, though. According to the Times, Rao “added that even smaller countries such as Taiwan, Singapore and South Korea have become global players and overtaken India.”
It’s possible that Rao, Balaram and other Indian scientists are seriously misreading the situation. After all, India’s enjoying very impressive economic growth, multinationals continue to send more and more of their outsourcing work to India, and Indian scientists are making progress in fields like biotech every day. According to many measurements, India’s tech level is just fine, thank you very much. But Rao, Balaram and others seem to be arguing that there’s a danger that Indian policymakers are complacent and are ignoring the sort of long-term investments in science that many other Asian countries are making. In the past 12 months, the anxiety level has not gone down. The question is, another year from now, will the situation have gotten any better?