India is on a rapid economic growth trajectory that will make it a “developed country” sooner or later. Of course, developed-country status is not a single-point destination. Even already-developed countries want to develop further. The key for India in sustaining its economic development over a long period is to become scientifically advanced, and ultimately to become a global innovation leader. In this issue we have come up with theme challenges & hope in the road of Science & Technology in India.
Despite high-profile successes such as the Indian space missions, and its well-known prowess in information technology, India lags badly in technological research and development. India spends less than one of its gross domestic product (GDP) on R&D. India’s share of global R&D stands at a dismal 2.7%—compared with 30% for the US. Even China now accounts for almost 15% of such spending, having doubled in total between 2008 and 2012.
It isn’t entirely surprising that India lays out so little on research. A majority of R&D spending takes place in the manufacturing sector—particularly at the upper end of the value chain—and India has a very weak manufacturing base compared with the US, China, Japan and Korea. Of course, the government has an important role to play in promoting basic research. But ideally the state should act more as a facilitator, encouraging greater cooperation between academia, laboratories and private industry and where necessary supporting R&D through financial resources (including for higher salaries to attract talent), but without managerial interference. In the US, federal government spending on R&D peaked at around 1.2% of GDP in the late 1980s. While it’s since dropped under 1%, even now 63% of the funding for academic R&D in the US comes from the government. In other spheres like defence, the government supports research by being a big buyer of high-tech equipment.
For India, foreign investment should provide another key source of funding. The country boasts a strong base of trained scientists and engineers available for a fraction of the cost in advanced economies. To fulfill that potential, however, the country needs to continue strengthening its weak patents regime and improving what remains a generally hostile investment for foreign businesses.
For government missions such as energy development or space exploration, quantifiable measures are more elusive. And for something as multifaceted as rural development, the challenge is truly daunting. India is making a concerted effort to develop reliable measures for progress in all these areas, but this will be a task that requires continual updating. Quantifying a nation’s innovative capacity is even more complex. Technology is obviously a critical dimension, but a variety of legal, financial, and cultural dimensions are also essential.
With warm regards
Shashank Kr. Dwivedi
Editor, Technical Today