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Britain's five-year plan: Beat India with India

London, Nov. 17: Britain wants India's top research scientists to come and work in the UK so that it can beat the rising challenge from India.

Five-year plans may be part of the bad old days of socialist India but they are becoming increasingly fashionable in Tony Blair's Britain.

The latest five-year programme, unveiled today by Patricia Hewitt, secretary of state for the department of trade and industry (DTI), and backed by the Prime Minister, is called Creating Wealth from Knowledge.

When Manmohan Singh held talks with Blair at 10 Downing Street, the two Prime Ministers envisaged scientific collaboration between Britain and India.

But the tone of today's DTI report is more combative and speaks of the 'challenge' from China and India.

This is yet more evidence that Britain is starting to see India not as a friend but as a rival. The word 'challenge' slips into every speech made by the Chancellor and would-be Prime Minister, Gordon Brown, when talking about India.

'Creating Wealth from Knowledge' states that Britain is winning in the global knowledge economy, 'but we need to do more to meet the challenge of rising economies such as China and India. We need greater exploitation of science and technology and a step-change in innovation in our economy, and our workplaces'.

Hewitt said: 'The global economic map is being redrawn. China is becoming one of the world's largest economies; India is producing three million highly skilled graduates a year; and central and eastern European countries ' with wages a fraction of ours ' are joining the European Union. But Britain is extremely well placed to benefit from this transformation.'

She added: 'Building on our strong economic foundations, we propose a new industrial policy built around the knowledge-based economy, high in skills, embracing innovation, science and technology.'

Urging the best overseas scientists to come to Britain ' and there are already many scientists of Indian origin working in British universities ' Hewitt said: 'And today we're sending a strong signal to scientists around the world that the UK is the place to come to carry out research in leading edge areas ' such as nanotechnology and stem cell research.'

So-called 'Newton Awards' would be launched involving a new multi-million-pound fund for research projects. A leading business figure will be appointed to help deal with barriers preventing innovations being adopted in the public sector and spending on research and development will increase.

Hewitt also pledged to cut red tape by more than '1 billion over five years.

The plans were backed by Blair who said Britain could become 'the world capital of science'. Science in this country was already world class but could get even better, he added.

The Prime Minister predicted that Britain could lead the way in controversial stem cell research and he warned animal rights extremists that they would not be allowed to stand in the way of progress.

Before Singh's visit to London, the Indian High Commissioner in London, Kamalesh Sharma, had a preparatory meeting with Dr David King, Blair's chief scientific officer. The understanding was that Britain and India would collaborate and not compete with each other.

The Blair-Singh joint declaration said: 'The UK and India already cooperate closely on science and technology. We have established a joint committee on science and technology and a networking scheme that enables scientists to meet each other, exchange research ideas and establish links.'

It went on: 'We will now enhance existing collaboration and identify new areas for cooperation in fields such as: climate change, alternative and clean energy technologies, environmental science, commercial applications of high technology like biotech and bio-informatics, nanotechnology, agriculture, and health research and development. We will encourage collaborative opportunities in these areas.'

There was certainly no plan to invite the world's top scientists to come to Britain, which when applied to nurses, for example, is seen as the rich West stealing the resources of poorer countries.

Britain's main problem at the moment is that at school level, not enough young people are taking up maths, physics and chemistry, leading to a shortage of teachers.

Some universities are even offering to take in undergraduates in physics without basic A-level maths.

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