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.