Tuesday, December 12, 2006

ToI on reforming India's R&D

The Times of India's editorial today rehashes almost all the usual remedies (faculty salaries, for example) to help revitalize India's R&D enterprise. Towards the end of it, however, we find this:

The present tendency to promote national laboratories at the expense of universities will not help the cause of research. Both have distinct roles which need to be synergised. [bold emphasis added]

Many people don't realize the importance of that statement I emphasized. Let's start with the big picture. The ToI editorial gives a figure of US $6 billion for India's R&D budget; it doesn't cite a source for this figure. In his Science article, R.A. Mashelkar too mentions a figure of $6 billion.

Six billion dollars is both small and big! Let's take small first. It's small in comparison with, for example, the R&D budget of General Motors: $10 billion! University research gets only a small slice of this already small pie. As we saw in this post, most of the pie goes to mission-mode organizations such as Defence, Atomic Energy and Space, and what remains is 'shared' by universities, CSIR labs and agricultural research labs. This lopsided arrangement dates back to the early fifties when CSIR was established; not surprisingly, many people trace the decline of university research to that era.

Let's face it: Six billion dollars is also a large sum for India. It's almost one percent of our GDP! Our demands for increase in research funding must be tempered by this fact. However, I think it's fair to ask the government to make higher education largely self-financing (perhaps using this model), and redirect that money to spruce up research capabilities in our universities.


  1. Anonymous said...


    The article is quite modest. It doesn't recommend freeing Universities of the choke hold of the government. While the Central Government may some day do this (after all there is only so much a family flunkey and scoundrel like Arjun Singh can do), the states aren't about to. Given the present strategy of the Congress (actually its collection of feudal groups starting with the Nehru-Gandhi) to parcel out sectors of the economy, India's territory, and its foreign policy, to sundry groups in order to build permanent vote banks, we can expect the state governments (actually another set of ruling families) to get ready to sink their claws in the future university sectors of excellence.
    Sorely missing is an element of pride and desire to establish an Indian presence in the world of science or technology. When you have resident idiots like Praful Bidwai dismissing India's mission-mode S&T establishment as a brahminical bastion (sounds so much like the Jewish science slur http://tinyurl.com/mw4zb) and Kazhagam types (who hounded out GNR from Madras university for obvious reasons) it is premature to start dreaming of better days for S&T. Money is one thing, thinking big is another. Do you think there ever will be a universities that hire professors for tenure track in India? What we may see is an exodus to the new greener pastures. There's always been North America. In the future we may see Europe, China and even Japan taking away our best and brightest. Of course there will always be the few and proud who persist