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Infosys Tackles India’s Science Crisis

Posted by: Bruce Einhorn on February 20, 2009

I’ve written before about worries among many Indians that that country’s scientists have fallen behind those of China and other Asian neighbors. (For more on India’s science panic, check out this blog post; here’s another.) Now Infosys Technology, arguably India’s most successful tech company, is trying to do something about the problem. Earlier this week, the company announced it was launching the Infosys Science Foundation, which will award cash prizes to young Indian scientists. The goal is to encourage them to do more research. Infosys co-founder N.R. Narayana Murthy, announcing the new initiative, said Indians have much to be proud when it comes to the country’s achievements in, for example, space. “The Indian higher education system has contributed significantly - as all of us know - in making India a global player in our space program,” he said. “India has also done a reasonable job in our rocketry program, we have sent satellites for our SITE program to start with; satellite instruction television experiment program which created connectivity between Delhi and every village in the country.” He also pointed to successful Indian innovation in telecom and agriculture.

Still, he said, India needs to do a lot better. Neglect of higher education now risks putting India at a major disadvantage. “We are at a point where all the extraordinary things our first Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru did in putting India on the global higher education screen may start faltering; in fact fall off that wonderful pedestal. We all believe the focus on higher education is extremely important because we do not know of any country in the world that has succeeded in solving the problems of its people, even its basic issues without a sound higher education system.”

Then Murthy provided some of the bad numbers: “According to the academic ranking of world universities for 2007, India had just two universities in the top 500, in fact there was no university of India in the top 300 best universities in the world while Japan had thirty-four, China eighteen, South Korea seven, and had Brazil four. And India just 2.” Moreover, “India ranks a lowly 119th among 149 countries ranked in the citations index. Imagine 119th rank among 149 countries.” One more: “India filed 363 patents in 2004, the latest year for which I have the figure - compared to 84,271 filed by the USA, 35,350 by Japan, and 5,938 by tiny Taiwan.”

The risk from these poor results? “The absence of research excellence has seriously impacted India’s scientific and technological output. If it has not impacted, it is likely to impact in the foreseeable, midterm future if not the short term future.” Murthy said there’s reason for optimism. For instance, he cited the increase in education spending in the government’s new budget, the opening of several new institutes of higher education, and the return of some Indian scientists from the West. Who knows if those changes will make much of an impact, but kudos to Murthy and others at Infosys for doing something to address the problem.

Reader Comments


February 23, 2009 9:28 PM

It is sometimes difficult to see the link between reseach and its applicability in the commercial world.Despite having only two universities in the world top 500, India is still a preffered source for skilled work in India and around the world. The article also overlooks the reputation of the IIT's which are ranked very high. We must see the commercial value of research rather than research for the sake of research.


February 24, 2009 12:35 AM

India does not need patents ant top universities. Indians speaks very good English, and that is enough to take most service jobs from the Americans, the Canadians, the British and the Australians.

We already take their call center jobs, back office jobs, support center jobs, wall street jobs. Now with Slumdog winning Oscar, we will be taking Hollywood jobs to India also. After all, it only take talking English to be directors and actors, who needs patents and PhDs. And Indians have always been excellent talkers. We even occupy 45% of jobs in NASA and started 65% of hi-tech companies in Silicon Valley. Bad schools and lack of patents did not matter a bid.


February 24, 2009 12:57 AM

With extremely large population, India is bound to have some smart people albeit small percentage, like IIT. However, on average, Indian’s IQ is at around 81. That is why India is the biggest SLUMDOG on the planet. How else could you explain that all these delusional folks so easily buy into the nonsense that India be a shinning superpower?


February 24, 2009 2:03 AM

If the West were really honest in citations then India would be No.1. Zero (along with many other things) was invented in India and its use ubiquitous. Yet I haven't seen any western paper crediting (and citing) India for it. And we all know the current computing systems run on binary systems and need Zero.

35,000 patents were filed by Japan and 6,000 by tiny Taiwan. Yet they cannot figure out why:

1. India / India themed movies won 9 Oscars this year.
2. Nano was developed by an Indian company.
3. India rewrote the rules of outsourcing game.
4. Japan still follows Buddhism.
5. Mumbai dabbawalas operate at Six Sigma levels.
6. And list goes on....

By such counts Indian educated in Indian Universities must be real dumb.

Indian education system is far from perfect, but in a country where the demand for education far exceeds the supply (by 100:1), Universities cannot focus on philosophical and esoteric things like:

1. Number of citations
2. Number of patents
3. Number of papers in Tier 1 journals.
4. Academic ranking

No University in the world measures whether its products (students) are 'streetsmart', i.e. they have got what it takes survive in a competitive and unpredictable world. Being streetsmart is more important than being able to publish papers and file patents.

Western education system is good in hoing skills if things to according to plan (the model is plan and execute), while Indian system focuses on sensing and responding.


February 24, 2009 7:15 AM

You are spot on....I am beginning to wonder whether all those thousands of patents will help Japan and Taiwan to stop their economies from contracting. In these days of depression like recession, who cares about patents, papers and citations. The average University product (student) is worried about more bread-and-butter issues like getting a job and keeping it.

funny numbers

February 24, 2009 10:19 AM

out of 300, Japan has 34. does it say something? Japan is the second largest economy. lets follow the Japanese model and ignore the lists of so called "best universities"

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