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:: Science & Technology

India’s R&D environment
Science & Technology    3/5/2007 6:48:39 PM

Published by Evalueserve


India abounds with anecdotes of gurus who imparted wisdom without expecting anything in return, with students simply providing a voluntary 'guru dakshina' (offering) in gratitude. In this regard, King Chandragupta Maurya's pragmatic advisor, Chanakya, seems to have been the only noteworthy exception, when he asserted, "Arth karicheye vidya" (create wealth from knowledge), almost 2,300 years ago. Given the deep-rooted Indian culture and the socialistic economy that democratic India pursued during 1947 and 1991, it is not surprising that unlike other OECD and emerging economies, India rarely monetised or commercialised any innovations. Since there were no monetary or other incentives for producing innovations, few significant innovations were created during the last 60 years!

During the last 15 years, the Indian economy has been gradually transforming into a ’free’ market-driven economy. Consequently, a culture of producing innovations and commercialising them has slowly begun to emerge. More importantly, a strong awareness is beginning to emerge at all levels that unless there is a broadbased creation of wealth, a vast majority of India’s population will continue to be deeply mired in poverty and will continue to struggle to meet some of its basic needs.

In this Background Paper, we review the changes that have taken place in India’s R&D environment during the last 15 years (1991-2005), and compare these changes to both the R&D environment that prevailed in India until the early 1990s and the situation in contemporary USA (which has done particularly well with respect to innovations and their commercialisation). This comparative analysis will help us in understanding India’s achievements, along with some systemic obstacles that have impeded research and innovation in the recent past and might continue to do so, if adequate measures are not taken. Finally, in this article, we also discuss our forecasts related to the growth of innovation and research, and their advanced development and commercialisation during the next 15 years (2006-2020).


2 Innovation and Commercialisation in for-Profit Companies


2.1 Concluding Comments and Recommendations

Overall, this healthy growth bodes really well for research and innovation in India; however, as we will discuss in Section 4, this growth can be stymied substantially (especially during 2008-2020) if the number of highly qualified graduates, engineers and scientists does not increase. Given the potential for substantial growth in the R&D sector, especially by the for-profit companies in India, the Indian government needs to ensure that the R&D investment process is extremely simple. In addition, the tax subsidies and benefits provided to such enterprises should be on par with, if not better than, those provided by the US, the UK, Japan, China, Israel, Singapore, Sweden and Finland.

3 Innovation and Commercialisation by Unaffiliated Inventors and its Ecosystem


3.5 Concluding Comments and Recommendations

Clearly, during the last 15 years, the cycle and eco-system for innovation and commercialisation in the hi-tech sector has been significantly different than that for the rural and agricultural sectors in India. This trend is likely to continue for the next 15 years as well (2006-2020), since the hi-tech sector will be very closely linked to the OECD and emerging countries around the world, whereas the rural and agriculture sectors in India will have to walk an un-traversed path. Nevertheless, it seems that the cultural factors (namely, the Saraswati-Lakshmi divide, learning by rote and the remnants of the socialistic economy) that impede innovation and its commercialisation are pervasive in both the eco-systems. We may be able to mitigate these by adopting the
following steps:

  • Modifying the curricula at the undergraduate and graduate levels in Education (i.e., Bachelor’s in Education, Master’s in Education, etc.) so that the new generation of teachers pays more importance to creativity than to learning by rote – However, this is easier said than done because (a) we will have to wait for one full generation of current teachers to retire, (b) it will be very difficult to change the mindset of the current generation of teachers that continues to believe in ’spare the rod and spoil the child’ and (c) for teachers to inspire creativity among students, they will have to be somewhat creative themselves and they will have to work harder to pose captivating questions and make classes more discussion oriented. If it is any consolation, ’creativity while learning’ is achieved only in a few schools even in the US, and on an average, the backpack carried by a seventh-grader in the US is only heavier than that of a seventh-grader’s in India!
  • Introducing talk shows on Indian radio and reality shows on Indian TV to promote innovation and commercialisation – About 60 percent of the total 198 million Indian households have TVs and a third of them (i.e., 67 million) have cable connections. By 2020, almost 60 percent of the projected 240 million households are likely to have cable connections. Further, an average member of a household with a cable connection watches at least 10 hours of TV every week. In fact, as is the case in the USA, reality shows such as ’Who wants to be a millionaire’ and ’Fear Factor’ are quite popular in India. Given this environment, high-quality reality shows that discuss innovative ideas and their commercialisation are also likely to be big successes in India, especially if these shows can demonstrate a few really good success stories. One of the Indian satellite channels, Zee TV, started a new reality show called ‘Business Baazigar – Idea Lao Paise Le Jao’ (translated as ‘Business Magician – Bring an Idea and Take Home Money’) on 31 March 2006. Subhash Chandra, the Chairman of Zee Telefilms; Mahesh Murthy, the Chief Executive Officer of Passion Funds; and Prof. Anil Gupta of the Indian Institute of Management, Ahmedabad (also the Vice Chairman of the National Innovation Foundation, mentioned in section 3.2) judged the entrepreneurial and business acumen of the contesting innovators [ref. 34]. Though the jury is still out on whether Business Baazigar will succeed as a reality show, it is clear that at least one show from this genre certainly will!
  • Creating a few highly successful cases quickly – Nothing succeeds like success, and once the entire nation witnesses the success of a few innovators and entrepreneurs becoming millionaires and billionaires (i.e., ’Crorepatis’ and ’Arabpatis’ in India), a new and strong generation of entrepreneurs is bound to emerge.
  • Creating champions, role models and mentors for the next generation – There are only a few successful entrepreneurs and innovators in India. However, since a significant percentage of the 23 million Persons of Indian Origin (PIOs) worldwide have done spectacularly well, it behoves this section of the Indian Diaspora to provide guidance to the next generation. Indeed, some baby steps have been taken with the appointment of Sam Pitroda as the head of the National Knowledge Commission of India. Constituted in June 2005, this commission is engaged in promoting domestic research and innovation in laboratories and at the grassroots level, and in the subsequent application and dissemination of the created knowledge. SiliconIndia, a community network for Indian professionals, entrepreneurs and students worldwide, also seeks to provide mentorship to aspiring entrepreneurs and innovators.

4 Innovation in Government/Defence Research Labs and Non-Profit/Academic Institutions


4.3 Concluding Comments and Recommendations

Given that universities and other academic institutions are responsible for creating the researchers and innovators of tomorrow, we believe that the government and non-government organisations should seriously consider the following:

  • The Indian government should create an equivalent of the Bayh-Dole Act legislated in the US, which allows universities to file for patents on research aided by federal, state or local government funds.
  • The government could join forces with non-government organisations and establish an accreditation mechanism, so that the quality of graduates and postgraduates from Indian colleges and universities can be improved substantially. Indeed, the number of engineers in India who are comparable to their counterparts in the US needs to go from 112,000 (2005) to at least 250,000 by 2010. Fortunately, most accreditation mechanisms do not require much money and are usually self-sustaining.
  • Given that the Indian government may not have enough money in its coffers for the purposes of higher education and R&D, it should actively promote more private colleges and research institutions (at all levels) in order to ensure an adequate supply of science and engineering professionals. Indeed, the International School of Business, located in Hyderabad and funded primarily by private bodies and students’ tuition, could be a good role model for institutions and colleges only providing postgraduate and doctoral degrees in Science and Engineering.
  • Given that only 112,000 engineers in India (out of a total of 350,000) had the same quality as those in the US, both for-profit companies and non-profit organisations should create ’customised teaching and training programmes’ so that they can bring the other engineers (and graduates and postgraduates from other disciplines) at par with their American counterparts. As a positive trend, this approach has already been pioneered in a few cases, and companies such as WIPRO, TCS and Infosys now have full-fledged training schools built into their office campuses.

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