Tigers on degree, rabbits on doctorate

India unable to build on good start in science

By Our Bureau
  • Published 20.01.18

New Delhi: India accounts for one-fourth of the estimated 7.5 million bachelor's degrees awarded worldwide in science and engineering but loses its top spot at the doctoral level where it slips to sixth, a report has suggested.

Relying on the latest available figures, the US National Science Foundation's Science and Engineering Indicators report for 2018 has found that the US accounts for only 10 per cent of the bachelor's degrees awarded in science and engineering but generates the highest number of doctorates.

It says the US awarded 40,000 doctoral degrees in science and engineering in 2014, followed by China (34,000), Russia (19,000), Germany (15,000), the UK (14,000) and India (13,000). (See chart)

"We don't see the same level of conversion from bachelor's to doctoral degrees in India as in the US and China. India lacks the capacity to absorb graduates into postgraduate and doctoral degrees," said Gangan Prathap, senior faculty member at the Abdul Kalam Technological University, Thiruvananthapuram.

The National Science Foundation report says that China's growth in science and engineering is continuing at an "exceptional pace", with its spending on research and development rising at an average of 18 per cent annually since 2000 while America's spend increased at just 4 per cent.

Nearly half of all degrees awarded in China are in the fields of science and engineering, the report says.

Senior Indian academics believe that the relatively low proportion of science and engineering doctorates in the country reflects both quality issues and low research funding.

"We have few institutions of excellence at the bachelor's (undergraduate) level but many mediocre institutions, and most are inferior institutions," said a professor emeritus from a central university who requested not to be named.

"Along with these issues of quality, there are limited funds for fellowships for doctoral research."

Some say that India's industrial culture fails to adequately emphasise home-grown innovation, limiting the number of doctorates Indian industry can absorb.

"Most industries are content with importing technologies and selling them here," a senior academic said.

The National Science Foundation report says that 79 per cent of foreign students who gain doctorates in the US choose to stay back and work in that country.

But, it adds, "the stay rates of those from China and India, the two largest source countries for international recipients of US science and engineering doctoral degrees, however, have declined slightly since the turn of the century".