163-year lab lag with China

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By G.S. MUDUR in Delhi
  • Published 10.02.07

New Delhi, Feb. 10: A bit of school algebra may sometimes deliver a reality check. India is hoping that its economic growth will edge closer to China’s 10 per cent, but it still lags over a century and a half behind the northern neighbour in its science and technology workforce.

A scientist at the Centre for Mathematical Modelling and Computer Simulation in Bangalore has shown that India will take at least 163 years to match China’s research workforce of 850,000 even if Beijing were to freeze the number today.

At the CMMACS, chief scientist Gangan Prathap has spent years doing complex aerospace engineering mathematics. But he has now used simple school algebra to show that even if India’s 4,500 annual science doctorates were to join the 115,000-strong science and technology workforce, the country won’t be able to touch the figure of 850,000 until 2170 AD.

“This is a very optimistic estimate because many scientists retire and many doctorates go abroad or migrate to non-research careers,” Prathap said. His calculations were published in the journal Current Science today.

Top scientists have long expressed a similar concern.

“The biggest problem that India will face in the next decade or so is a human resources crunch in science and technology,” said Professor C.N.R. Rao, head of the Scientific Advisory Committee to the Prime Minister.

“There are several reasons for this impending crisis,” Rao told The Telegraph. “Some of the best talent is picked up by the US, Europe, even other Asian countries.”

Worsening the external brain drain is an internal one: talent veering towards careers in management or information technology, he said.

Senior scientists have in the past warned that information technology has been pulling trained scientists away from research.

“We’ve lulled ourselves into thinking we’re doing great things,” said Rajesh Kochchar, former director of the National Institute of Science Technology and Development Studies.

Rao said some effects of the talent drain away from science may already be visible.

“India’s share of global research publications in science has dropped to unbelievably low levels,” he said.

Studies indicate that research publications from India account for less than 2 per cent of research papers worldwide.

The department of science and technology had earlier this year announced plans to invest up to Rs 1,350 crore over the next five years to attract fresh talent into science, offering five-year job guarantees to doctorate students.

But Rao said he’s worried the government hasn’t been able to ease the stranglehold of the bureaucracy over appointments and the release of funds — even when the funds have been approved by high decision-making agencies.