India’s abysmal research output

Date:   Friday , June 01, 2007

Economic activity of any nation has a direct correlation to its scientific research and in particular IT research. One indicator of what is happening on the research front is to look at the publication of research papers and the numbers of PhDs. On both these counts we lag behind China.

India produces about 30 PhDs in computer science per year, which is a normal number in an average U.S. public university. While the number of India’s engineering PhD’s has remained flat, China’s has surged, suggesting that research output will soon rise in China. While China accounts for 12 percent of the world’s research output, India contributes less than three percent.

In the United States, close to 60 percent of the engineering PhDs awarded annually are currently earned by foreign nationals. Indian and Chinese students are the dominant foreign student groups. Nearly 30 percent of all Chinese students studying abroad and that number is steadily increasing return home after their education. The same cannot be said of their Indian counterparts.

The bottom line is that China is racing ahead of the United States and India in its production of engineering and technology PhDs and in its ability to perform basic research. India is in particularly bad shape, as it does not appear to be producing the numbers of PhD’s needed even to staff its growing universities.

About a third of computer science papers come from the U.S alone. India contributes to less than one percent of the computer science publication. In the last two decades, the number of research papers has arisen by a factor of 23 in China, 68 in South Korea, and 4.3 in Brazil, but it has decreased in India. Also, India is not among the top 30 countries in terms of the number of patents applied for.

Taking threads from the success of research in other countries, for the scientific output to increase in India, there needs to be ample government funding. The number of PhDs the country produces should increase; the number of research papers and patents filed will follow suit.

One factor for lesser number pursuing doctoral studies could be lack of opportunities. Good news is that in the last few years, technology behemoths have opened their research labs in India. Though majority of activity in these corporate labs is more closely related to product-line business than basic research, PhDs working here are getting their hands dirty on real-world customer problems. India, for sure, needs more of such initiatives.

Pradeep Shankar