Prime Minister Manmohan Singh on Friday did some plain speaking to top scientists and students at the Indian Institute of Technology in Mumbai, saying China and South Korea have ‘leap-frogged’ ahead of India in their ‘mastery over science and technology’.
Participating in the platinum jubilee celebration of the National Academy of Sciences, Singh said, "I have encountered growing concern among our scientists that China has overtaken us in science. If true, then we must ask ourselves why, and what can we do about it."
Singh also expressed concern over the ‘decline in standards of research in universities, even in the IITs’. His prescription: encourage reverse brain drain in universities and government institutions.
About three months ago, the Prime Minister’s Scientific Advisory Council had alerted Singh about China outpacing India in science. Citing a US government study, council chairman CNR Rao had said that in the last 25 years, China’s research output had increased more than 25 times vis-a-vis India’s.
Reacting to the PM’s speech, Union Science and Technology Minister Kapil Sibal told the Hindustan Times, “We need a national commitment for massive increase in our R&D investment. The PM’s statements give me hope.’’
Compared to India’s R&D investment of 0.8 per cent of the GDP, China spends 1.3 per cent, said Sibal. Between 2006-2021, China aims to increase this spending to 2.5 per cent of its GDP. “That would be $230 billion per year after 15 years. If China has the willpower to spend $230 billion on research, we need to do much more for R&D… That depends on the finance minister and the Planning Commission," Sibal said.
Eminent scientist and Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) advisor MGK Menon echoed Sibal. China, he said, has money as well as centralised thinking. This year, the US Science and Engineering Indicators 2006 called China the world’s third-largest R&D performer. China has experienced “the most rapid growth” in spending for academic R&D, the report said.
The Prime Minister reiterated his government’s plan to increase India’s annual expenditure on science and technology to 2 per cent of the GDP in five years. “I have been waiting for that hike ever since Rajiv Gandhi was prime minister. Now I want it implemented,’’ Menon said.
Menon agreed with the PM’s assessment that the quantum of research at the IITs was not commensurate with their standing.