Need to develop research-intensive campuses in India

- PROF. SUNIL GOYAL

India needs to participate in the global knowledge economy by increasing investments in research- intensive universities to help develop reliable infrastructure and functional health systems, decrease inequalities, and provide a brighter future for its youthful population. Universities are in a unique position to provide innovative solutions to challenges facing the continent, but insisted that, if universities are to be the engine of development, research must be approached in a trans-disciplinary manner.

If we want to be the engines of development, then we have to be trans-disciplinary in our approach. This does not only involve bringing multiple disciplines to work together but to engage with all stakeholders, including communities who have an interest in the research area to define the problem, design solutions, and then [ensure] the outcomes and benefits are shared. This, then, helps universities contribute to development and fostering equality.

Erroneous policies have been an impediment to the development of research-intensive universities in India. India in the world with a population of over 1.41 billion people, which is equivalent to 17.6% of the total world population, but tertiary enrolment is 31% (2021).

The global average is 38%. The low enrolment figures, can be traced back to the colonial period when investment in tertiary education seen as an unnecessary luxury and this has had dire consequences for research and the development of India. As a result, in India, expenditure on education as a percentage of GDP merely increased from 4.11% in 2015 to 4.47% in 2020, an increase of only 0.36% over a period of five years. Many tertiary institutions shut down and were and still are underfunded.

As per the R&D Statistics and Indicators 2019-20 based on the national S&T survey 2018 brought out by the National Science and Technology Management Information (NSTMIS), Department of Science and Technology (DST), India has 255 researchers per million population as compared to 8,342 in Israel 7,899 in Denmark; 7,597 in Sweden; 7,498 in Korea; 6,722 in Finland; 6,636 in Singapore; 6,489 in Norway and 5,304 in Japan. However, the total numbers of researchers in India are 3.42 lakh as compared to 17.40 lakh in China, 13.71 lakh in USA, 6.76 lakh in Japan, 4.13 lakh in Germany and 3.83 lakh in Korea. India’s spending on research and development (R&D) is among the lowest in the world, per a study conducted by government think-tank NITI Aayog and Institute for Competitiveness.

R&D investment in India, in fact, has declined from 0.8% of the GDP in 2008–09 to 0.7% in 2017-18. Data shows that India’s GERD is lower than the other BRICS nations. Brazil, Russia, China and South Africa spend around 1.2%, 1.1%, above 2% and 0.8% respectively. The world average is around 1.8%.

The India Innovation Index 2021 has found that the overall spending on R&D by India has been relatively low across the country. This was reflected in the overall share of gross expenditure on R&D (GERD) as a percentage of GDP, at about 0.7%. Developed countries the United States, Sweden, and Switzerland spend about 2.9%, 3.2% and 3.4%, respectively.

Israel spends 4.5% of its GDP on R&D, the highest in the world. But, even with faulty policies, the culture of giving incompetent people jobs in public and private institutions in India coupled with non-functioning systems are the main challenges facing development in India.

We don’t always give the jobs – be it teaching or as heads of institutions – to the best candidates, as appointments are not always based on merit. We need to change this. We have had incompetent and corrupt leaders while the competent have been stuck in dysfunctional systems.

We expect people to deliver when they are not surrounded by well-functioning systems. To have a good higher education system, you need a well-functioning education system, from pre-school to higher level. But, to be effective in higher education, you need a functional support system that repurposes rules and regulations, good human resource and information technology systems, and functioning infrastructure. But, despite this, there are centres of excellence across India, implying that the continent has the ability to do right.

Indian universities should embrace intra-India collaboration and promote differentiated teaching, as it allows countries to meet a variety of national needs and allows them to offer a range of degrees at undergraduate and postgraduate level. These degrees, will help produce graduates who can work in government, NGOs, and in business. We also need research-intensive universities to do research and research training.

These research-intensive universities produce our PhDs and should be home to Indian and to international post-doctoral students. Such graduates will be the people who will continue to renew our research-intensive universities. They will also staff all our universities and technical and vocational education and training institutions, besides taking up many other roles in society. Every country needs some kind of national research system, a system that comprises universities, public research institutions, governmental and non-governmental research and research investments from the public and private sectors. Without this, a country cannot participate in the global knowledge economy.

Participating in the global knowledge economy is important as well. We have to provide social safety to our populations; we have to build reliable infrastructure; functional health systems and we need to reduce inequalities within and between countries and offer the young Indian population a future in which they can use their time in fulfilling ways. They have to feel that they have a stake here in India. That they can want to and make a contribution in India.

The bottom line is that India needs to develop. And this is why India has to participate in the global knowledge economy. There are questions about development that no one else is better placed to answer than Indians in Indian universities. Developed countries have invested heavily in the entire education system, from primary to tertiary. This is essential, because it is the way for individuals to have a better life and for nations to develop. With research-intensive universities, India will find solutions to its challenges. This, however, will work effectively with trans-disciplinary research collaboration.

Infact, we need to invest more money in research. Research spending should hit 3% of (India’s) GDP from 0.7% currently. Of this private contribution should jump at least 1.5% from 0.1% at present. Among the reasons cited for the low spending on R&D in developing countries like India is that investments in R&D take time to produce results. Countries like India tend to have bigger issues like hunger, disease control, and raising the quality of life and authorities divert resources towards tackling them.

However, it can be argued that these pressing concerns shouldn’t be viewed as a hindrance, but rather an opportunity to widen the ambit of R&D. Data shows that countries that spend less on GERD fail to retain their human capital in the long run. Lower spending on R&D, and less innovative opportunities may lead people to move from one region to another region – state/ country for better opportunity.

This phenomenon is known as brain drain and reduces the competitive edge of a state, further impacting the country’s overall economy. Author is an Eminent Social Scientist, Columnist, and presently posted as Dean, School of Social Sciences and Management Studies at Dr. B. R. Ambedkar University of Social Sciences, Dr. Ambedkar Nagar (MHOW), Madhya Pradesh. Email: [email protected]

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Central Chronicle is daily English Newspaper of Chhattisgarh. Central Chronicle has own website www.centralchronicle.in it is first news website in Chhattisgarh.

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