Friday, March 02, 2007

What about science R&D?

Let's look at India's spending on science and technology R&D. Since most of this money comes from the government (private sector R&D spend is probably about a third of government spending), we have to start with the budgetary allocations. All the information below is culled from the ministry-wise expenditure budgets which can be downloaded from this page.

Let's start with a high-level summary:

Department/Ministry 2007 Budget   2006 Budget  
Atomic Energy 3796 3173
Space 3858 2997
Defence 3186 3011
Agriculture 2460 2276
Medicine 1520 1341
DST 1775 1177
DSIR 1902 1550
DBT 694 510

The total comes to about 19,191 crores, up nearly 20 % from 16,035 crores last year.

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Related links:

I did a similar exercise last year.

T.V. Padma in SciDev.Net: India increases science spending by 21 per cent.

The Hindu editorial: What about money for science?.

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Now, a bit of fine print:

The Big Guns: The Departments of Atomic Energy, Space and Defence get a big chunk of our government's R&D 'largesse'. This year, they get 10840 crores (3796, 3858 and 3186 crores, respectively), up 18% from 9181 crores last year (3173, 2997 and 3011 crores, respectively).

The figure for DAE includes spending on academic institutions (such as TIFR and IMSc, Chennai), which is 694 crores this year, against 534 crores last year. Similarly, the DAE budget also includes a bit of manufacturing (heavy water, nuclear fuel, etc).

The R&D component alone is 1746 crores, just 3.5 % up from 1687 crores last year. Here's the break-up for the major R&D centres under DAE: Bhabha Atomic Research Centre, Mumbai -- 1242 (1234 last year), Indira Gandhi Centre for Atomic Research, Kalpakkam -- 289 (238), RRCAT, Indore -- 115 (120 crores), and Variable Energy Cyclotron Centre, Kolkata -- 100 (85).

For Defence and Space, however, I presume all of the budget should go under R&D.

Department of Science and Technology (DST) gets 1775 crores (against last year's 1177 crores). This figure also includes academic institutions (such as the Jawaharlal Nehru Centre for Advanced Scientific Research), for which the allocation is about 445 crores against last year's 356 crores. Yet another piece that's of interest to academic researchers is the allocation for SERC (Science and Engineering Research Council, the arm that funds university research); it has actually come down to 346 crores from 359 crores!

One other notable feature in the DST budget is the allocation this year of Rs. 150 crores for the National Mission on Nanoscience and Nanotechnology. Interestingly, Rs. 180 crores were allocated, but was not used (look at the second column for the revised budget estimates)!

Bottomline: If you assume, generously, that the combined R&D spend by other ministries and departments (information technology, renewable energy, environment, etc) and by private industries is about half this figure (of about 19,000 crores), the total R&D budget for all of India comes to about 28,000 crores, or six billion US dollars.

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It's worth repeating this figure: Six Billion US Dollars. For all of India.

Of this, we have just seen that a big chunk -- nearly 40 percent -- goes to mission-mode R&D programs in the Departments of Atomic Energy, Defence and Space. A huge chunk of the rest is used up by R&D organizations that come directly under the various ministries/departments (CSIR labs, ICAR labs, etc).

If you focus your attention on support for academic research at universities, well, you will have to focus hard. While it's not a needle in a haystack, it's still pretty meager. DST offers about Rs. 350 crores through SERC and another 150 crores through the nano-mission, and DBT offers about 200 to 300 crores. Even if you add the support for extramural research from other S&T related ministries (which typically is less than 5 percent of their total budgets), the total academic research support would still be less than 2000 crores -- or about 450 million US dollars. Remember, this is a very generous estimate. To put this number in perspective, it's about one-and-a-half million dollars per university!

So, here's the real bottomline:

The total academic R&D support for the entire country of India is about the same as (or, even smaller than) the R&D expenditure in a (largish) US state university such as the University of Illinois, PennState, or UCLA [1].

Do remember this fact when some hotshot comes along and bitches about how India produces an abysmally small number of scientific publications.

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Update: Via an e-mail from a friend of a friend, I got the link to this article about the top universities in terms of their R&D expenditure. In 2005, Johns Hopkins was No. 1 with an R&D budget of about 1.4 billion dollars. University of Michigan (808 million dollars), University of Wisconsin at Madison (798 million), UCLA (785 million), UC - San Francisco (754 million) are the other universities in the Top Five.

Second update: Okay, I did a bit of digging, and I found this longer NSF list of top US universities in R&D spending. Check out Table 4. An even longer list -- but for the year 2004 -- is here (pdf).


  1. Anonymous said...

    A more interesting analysis would be to calculate the average funding provided to a professor at IISc/IIT and compare that to a large state university in the US and correlate that with performance(simply because IITs/IISc are at least funded at a level which cannot be called beggar allowance).

    I know that Prof. Ananth, director of IIT Madras had done such an analysis some years back and had estimated that a professor at MIT had access to 150 times more money than a professor at IIT. I wonder how that stands now.

  2. Anonymous said...


    Without disagreeing with the larger point, I must point out that dollar to dollar comparison is unfair without taking into account the different purchasing power of the dollar and the rupee. If we accept the World Bank estimate of purchasing power parity of 5, perhaps we can better estimate how underfunded academic R&D really is.

  3. Abi said...

    As: Thanks for that suggestion. That would be an interesting exercise. I will try to give it a shot sometime soon (hopefully).

    Confused: In the realm of research, the only thing that is inexpensive in India is manpower, and by and large, the government takes care of almost all of it.

    Research grants are for buying new equipment, and for meeting the running expenses for a lab. For this kind of expenditure, the PPP factor is close to ONE! For example, the cost of a transmission electron microscope, a nuclear magnetic resonance spectroscope or a gas chromatograph is essentially the same in rupees as in dollars. Heck, even computers cost the same in India as elsewhere. So, a direct comparison is not too far off the mark.

    Even if you use a PPP factor of five, all it says is that the academic research funding for ALL of India's universities is still less than the combined spending by the top two in the US: Johns Hopkins and the University of Michigan.

    Thus, it really doesn't change the rather depressing bottomline: India's support for scientific research in universities is abysmally small.

  4. Unknown said...

    Do you mean 6 Billion or 60 Million US Dollar?

  5. Anonymous said...

    All this organisations of Government like Atomic Energy Space etc are WHITE Elephants and they should be closed down.