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'India, China do not pose challenge to US'

A top US magazine says the picture in India and China is much different from that painted for years by media.

world Updated: Aug 15, 2007 13:17 IST
Arun Kumar

Warnings from pundits that the millions of engineers and scientists India and China produce each year would soon challenge the US' technical superiority may be a little premature, according to Newsweek International.

While Delhi and Beijing are slowly moving in the right direction to improve their high-tech and science programmes, "yet getting either country up to speed will be an enormous task", said the magazine.

"Which means the West can rest easy, at least for the moment neither India nor China will leapfrog ahead anytime soon," it says in its August 20-27 issue noting that both countries face huge deficits in technical education.

"Pay for university teachers is pitiably low (it starts at about $400 a month), especially compared with what they could make in the private sector (more than $10,000 a month)."

As a result, said Newsweek citing Madhusudan Datta, an economist at Kalyani University, "talent gets soaked up by lucrative offers from industry".

Adding to India's problems is a conspicuous lack of vision amongst the bureaucracy, and corruption at every level. "All this has affected the quality of our technical education," said Biplab Kumar Sikdar, an assistant professor of computer science.

One result: despite the large number of new graduates India rolls out each year, it only produces about 50 PhDs in computer science, about the same number as an average public university in the US, Newsweek said.

To meet their rapidly growing demands for trained manpower, more and more top companies in both countries have begun taking matters into their own hands, creating in-house training programmes.

In China, Microsoft kicked off the trend years ago. And in India, Infosys leads the way with 16-week comprehensive training courses that cost the company nearly $5,000 per employee.

"The biggest challenge for India today and going forward will be how to create a skilled work force," said Newsweek citing TV Mohandas Pai, an Infosys board member focused on human resources. "And the government is not waking up to this fact."

The picture in India and China is much different from that painted for years by pundits and the press who "have been warning that the millions of engineers and scientists India and China produce each year would soon challenge the US' technical superiority".

Just a few months ago, London-based think tank Demos warned in a report that "the centre of gravity of innovation has started moving from the West to the East", and that China could become a "scientific superpower" by 2050.

Indeed, the raw numbers are impressive. China cranked out more than 600,000 engineers in 2005 alone, and India produces nearly 500,000 technical grads annually.

But these stats only tell half the story. Many of the graduates can't find work, and corporate recruiters in both countries lament a dearth of qualified applicants.

"Out of the huge number of engineering and science graduates that India produces, only 25 to 30 per cent can be regarded as suitable," Kiran Karnik, head of the National Association of Software and Services Companies, was quoted as saying.

The reason? Underfunding and a range of other factors have produced serious educational crises in India and China. These problems could soon wreak havoc on their economies, it says.

To sustain their breakneck growth, the countries will need lots of high-quality engineers and scientists. Yet neither have enough reliable universities to produce them.

MA Pai, who taught at the prestigious Indian Institute of Technology in Kanpur, warned that the "lack of highly trained people at the PhD level in both sciences and engineering will be a serious setback to India becoming a knowledge economy".