Tuesday, January 20, 2009


I recently read two excellent articles on investing in R&D by educational institutions as well as IT firms written by Dipankar Gupta and Shruti Maheshwari.
Dipankar believes that “If there is one big idea that India should pursue then that is of making this country a knowledge powerhouse. We set up several IITs, we have over 270 universities and famous institute of sciences, but we have forgotten to energise them with funds and enthuse them to do research.
All our ideas about modern knowledge come primarily from the West, and often do not suit our demands. We have millions who are sick and ailing, but we are yet to conduct appropriate research that could help them.
India may have more than 270 universities but by the most charitable ranking of the Times Higher Education Supplement, our IITs rank 50th in the world, the IIMs 84th, and the much talked-about Jawaharlal Nehru University a lowly 192nd.
We all know, or should know, by now that endogenous growth takes place when R&Dis locally produced and applied. If we take a look at Scopius or the Citation Index, Indian scientists and scholars have put up an unimpressive show. India figures badly in citations in Nature, the most acclaimed science journal. The country was not always this way. Indian intellectuals were prominent and, in many cases, at the cutting edge of knowledge well before Independence.
This was possible because people like Sir Ashutosh Mookerjee were at the helm of affairs on the educational front. In the 1907 convocation of Calcutta University, Mookerjee had this to say: “From now on the (Calcutta) University is not just an institution issuing certificates, nor is it even a conglomeration of colleges… It will be a centre of learning and the expansion of the frontiers of knowledge.”
Accordingly, he encouraged high science in Calcutta University. He never argued that since India is a poor country, it is not capable of sophisticated sciences. We are often fed such arguments today, particularly by a few UN agencies.
Mookerjee brought in people like C.V. Raman, Satyendranath Bose, Sisir Mitra and Meghnad Saha. All these scholars were recognized not just in India but internationally as well. Calcutta University became a knowledge hub since it encouraged research.
In the course of time, Nehru’s many temples of knowledge have become clearing houses for the mediocre and the standards were set so low that almost anybody could get a college degree.
Even in the much-vaunted information technology, we are adept at doing pretty primitive operations that the West has ceased to take interest in” such as product and process development.
Shruti writes “to quote some numbers, an institution like Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) produces 200 PhDs in computer science every year whereas India awards 34 PhDs in the subject annually.
Most of the IT sector in India is still not into innovation full throttle. Companies are more often than not looking to replicate success stories of the West.”
According to Rajdeep Sahrawat, VP Nasscom, most of the Indian IT firms don’t do major research in computer science technology. After all, how many patents have the top IT firms produced in the recent years? They are building applications on existing technologies. Top five to six software enterprises are all moving towards becoming solution providers.
So finally as Dipankar says” if there is one big idea we can pursue, and pursue realistically, then that is to put our might, mouth and money where R&D is. Let us concentrate on doing high science. It is this endeavor that would alone stand guarantee for sustained economic growth for the future.”