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Why is Innovation still a challenge in India?
Anonya Roy
Friday, December 3, 2010
When Watts Humprey defined innovation as “The process of turning ideas into manufacturable and marketable form,” he subtly maintained the worthiness of ideation only when it can be actuated in real world scenes. At a broader level, the goal of innovation is to do something better, invent something new. The end ultimately is not for the sake of producing new things but enabling an efficient and effective way of solving problems and addressing society’s needs.

No technology development is a result of fling of seconds, rather it’s an incessant effort of years that develops into a good product. Millions of investment on a glitzy product will have no impact on the hi-tech advancement. It is the qualitative investment that matters than quantitative capital investment. For better quality we need better talent-pool. A look into the industry will witness a growing tendency of major MNCs flocking the Indian market to get their R&Ds in shape, all thanks to the low-cost talent-pool. The report released by NASSCOM and Zinnov Consulting states that the major fragments of the MNCs’ Indian subsidiaries that are engaged in R&D and engineering operations make up $4.8 billion in export earnings. But is that enough? Cost-effective talent pool will not be the ultimate USP for India in the long term. The need of the hour is quality talent-pool, and a good number of PhDs from the country, the number of which is immensely low in the country.

40 years back, almost two-thirds of the graduates from the premier engineering institutes in India were seen rushing to U.S. for their further education and almost half of them proceeded to do a PhD. The case is no more same in India today. The interest in higher education itself has reduced to one-third, as everyone has a job in hand even before they are out of the grad-schools. Our success is coming in the way of our innovation. In the quest of small time gratification we are missing out on the larger picture. The U.S. produces about 1,500 PhDs in computer science annually and China about 3,000. By stark comparison, India’s annual computer science PhD production languishes at roughly 100, the number is slightly higher as that for Israel, a nation with roughly five percent of India’s population size.

The biggest challenge for the country is the lack of industry investment. Research gains more prominence during the academic level, however, institutes do not have enough capital to materialize the ideas. There is a huge need of better flow of corporate money into the academia and help the young grads build-up on their idea and also renew their interest on further research. Talk about industry investment and less than 20 Indian firms stand among the top 1500 R&D investors in the world, with of course Tata Group – the ‘Nano innovators’ standing at the top among all the Indian firms. The sad part is not even a single firm features among the Top 50 in the list. There should be an increasing hand-shake between the industry and academia through intern programs and facilitating more publications of research papers and aptly recognizing the best ones to encourage the innovative minds of the country.

Being a forerunner in technology and development is a must for India, as Harold R. McAlindon said the world leaders in innovation and creativity will also be world leaders in everything else. So now it is time that the industry sits up and takes notice and work toward achieving the goal of innovation coming from India.
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