Prime minister Manmohan Singh says that the country is falling behind other research competitors such as China

Indian science is at a crossroads. Despite a three-fold increase in public R&D in the last five years, Indian science and research is yet to make a significant impact on the global scene. Indian prime minister Manmohan Singh told delegates at the 99th Indian Science Congress in Bhubaneswar that an overhaul of the management of Indian science is now needed. 

’We need to do much more to change the face of Indian science . Over the past few decades, India’s relative position in the world of science has been declining and we have been overtaken by countries like China,’ Singh said. 

"We are publishing a lot more now, growing at a rate of 10% as against the global average of 4%" - Kankan Bhattacharyya, director of the Indian Association for the Cultivation of Sciences

In December 2011, the prime minister’s Science Advisory Council reported some ’disturbing trends’ in Indian science, including and the absence of any Indian universities among the world’s best. The council also noted that other Asian countries, such as China and South Korea, are producing huge numbers of PhDs and better quality research papers.   

To improve India’s international standing, Singh wants R&D spending to double over the next five years to 2% of GDP. Though spending has increased in recent years, the proportion of GDP that India dedicates to R&D has remained below 1% for more than a decade - it has risen from 0.65% in 1996 to 0.9% in 2010.   

According to senior government officials, the government spent almost ?9 billion in the 11th five year plan (2007-2012) setting up new research institutes and centres of excellence, as well as expanding and improving the infrastructure of existing facilities. In the 12th five year plan, R&D spending is likely to be around ?20 billion with the private sector expected to contribute substantially. 

However, the management of science in India is still hampered by a traditional approach to research. Unlike China and developed nations, the Indian science community is struggling to increase collaborations between disparate scientific groups to create quality research. The Indian academic community complains that management is still too bureaucratic and hierarchical, and fails to provide a platform for a younger generation of science leaders with new ideas. Another problem is a lack of productive engagement between the industry and academia. 

Kankan Bhattacharyya, director of the Indian Association for the Cultivation of Sciences, is optimistic about the growth of Indian science. He agrees with most of the findings of the advisory council but feels that the quality of scientific research has improved considerably in the last five years and that this is reflected in international citations. ’We are publishing a lot more now, growing at a rate of 10% as against the global average of 4%,’ Bhattacharyya says. ’With promised funding, India can be among the top scientific publishers by 2020.’ 

The council has made several recommendations to improve science in India. These include increasing funding, establishing 200 centres of excellence and linking together top institutes in the areas of energy, health, agriculture and the environment. Another problem India faces is that few women can find jobs in the sciences. A 2011 survey found that of almost 2000 Indian women with science PhDs, 60%were unemployed. Singh said this could be addressed by greater transparency in selection procedures at institutions and stressed the importance of gender audits. 

Rajesh Parishwad