In a first, the Economic Survey has included a chapter exclusively for science and technology, considering the fact that science, technology and innovation are the "key drivers of economic performance and social well-being.".
While reminding the country's glorious achievements in science and technology in the past, the survey says the “country cannot rest on its past laurels, given the dizzying pace and expansion of scientific research and knowledge.”
The survey revealed the pathetic state of India's spending on R&D in terms of percentage of GDP, that has been stagnant at 0.6 to 0.7 per cent in the last two decades.
The survey noted that, China and the US had spent 1 per cent and 2.5 per cent of GDP on R&D, at a time when their per capita GDP were similar to that of India.
Although India's investment in science – measured in terms of Gross Expenditure on R&D (GERD) – has tripled in the last decade, the ratio was stagnant at 0.6 to 0.7 per cent of the GDP.
India's GRED has tripled in the last decade to Rs 85,326 crores in 2014-15 from Rs 24,117 crore of 2004-05. It is estimated at Rs 1,04,864 crore in 2016-17.
According to the Survey, East Asian countries like China, Japan and Korea have seen dramatic increases in R&D as a percentage of GDP as they have become richer. It points out that at the current rate, India would just barely reach GERD of 1 per cent of GDP by the time the country is as rich as the US.
Private investments in R&D have severely lagged public investments in India, it said. In most countries, the private sector carries out most of the R&D. However, in India, the government is not just the primary source of R&D funding but also a primary user of these funds.
"According to one analysis (Forbes, 2017) there are 26 Indian companies in the list of the top 2,500 global R&D spenders compared to 301 Chinese companies. 19 (of these 26) firms are in just three sectors – pharmaceuticals, automobiles and software," said the Survey.
India has no firms in five of the top ten R&D sectors as opposed to China that has a presence in each of them.
About three-fifths of government's investment in R&D is spread over the key government science funding agencies like Atomic Energy, Space, Earth Sciences, Science and Technology and Biotechnology, the Survey said.
Even more, government expenditure on R&D is undertaken almost entirely by the central government.
Quantity v/s Quality
The other critical parameters that can assess the productivity and quality of Indian R&D is the number of original publications and patents.
The publication trends suggest that India is gradually improving but the downside of this rise in numbers is the fact that there are many journals that publish "non- peer-reviewed manuscripts for a substantial fee." The survey points out the major catalyst for this problem is "the emphasis on the number of research publications as a determinant" for faculty appointments and promotions.
Even though there is a progress in the quality of publications, there exists a considerable lag in levels between India and other two large countries, China and US.
According to WIPO, India is the seventh largest patent filing office in the World. It has suggested some measures as to improve math and cognitive skills at the school level, encourage investigator – led research, link national labs to universities and create new knowledge eco-systems to improve science and R&D in the country.
The way ahead
The Survey opines that India clearly needs to redouble its efforts to improve R&D first and foremost by doubling the national expenditure on R&D with most of the investment coming from private sector.
The Survey had also put forward an eight point formula, that extends from primary school level education to leveraging upon the vibrant Indian diaspora engaged in science and R&D.
- Improve math and cognitive skills at the school level
- Encourage Investigator-led research
- Increase funding for research from private sector as well as from state governments
- Link national labs to universities and create new knowledge eco-systems
- Take a mission driven approach to R&D
- Leverage scientific diaspora
- Improve the culture of research
- Greater public engagement of the science and research establishment