India should invest more in science research: Infosys Science Foundation
India needs to invest more in scientific research as the country lags behind burgeoning economies like China in catalysing research and development, K Dinesh, President of Infosys Science Foundation (ISF), said. The focus on maximising job prospects over inculcating the spirit of curiosity among students has led to the development of an educational system that is not been conducive for scientific research, Dinesh said.
According to UNESCO Institute of Statistics data, there are only 156 researchers per million inhabitants in India and currently, the country spends 0.8 per cent of GDP in research and development (R&D) compared to countries like Israel and South Korea who spend 4.2 per cent and 4.3 per cent respectively of their GDP on R&D. While China spends two per cent of its GDP on their R&D, US spends 2.7 per cent of their GDP on R&D, the data shows.
"Research foundations in India have been slow to adopt practices that have shown to be extremely effective in other countries, leading to a stagnation of knowledge formation,". However, he pointed out funding as the largest roadblock for the growth of scientific research in India.
"Annually, government budgets have assigned limited importance to research in the country, leading to organisations depending on external funding, which too has been limited in nature," he said.
Dinesh noted that with education gaining precedence over research, there is a clear difference in thinking that must be changed in order for science research to flourish. "As research tends to focus on long-term gain as opposed to visible changes in the present, the country's burgeoning economy has been reluctant to invest in science research," he said.
"Thus, it has fallen on private players to catalyse this space and champion research in the country," he said. He also said that initiatives like those of the Wadhwani Foundation for AI research and the Council of Scientific & Industrial Research's (CSIR) constant efforts to progress the growth of R&D in India represent some of the first steps that have been taken to address these issues.
In order to increase interest in science as a subject among students, ISF has introduced multiple initiatives over the years to create programmes that enable youngsters to compete with the best in the world in the field of science, technology and mathematics, Dinesh said. The foundation has instituted the Infosys Prize which draws people's attention towards the winners' work through articles.
In a span of nine years, the Infosys Prize has recognised and awarded 56 researchers and scientists for their outstanding contribution to their fields of expertise. "We engage with them regularly and host public lectures across the country with an aim to promote scientific understanding among students and to show them a path to research as a career. Only when we do this, can an appetite for scientific work be sustained," said Dinesh.
He said a new initiative taken by ISF this year is the partnership with the New York Academy of Sciences to host a virtual challenge on malnutrition in India. "Around 3,000 students between 13-18 years of age have signed up to use their STEM skills to present solutions to this social blight in India. We want children to see that scientific thinking can be applied outside laboratories to solve problems in the social domain," said Dinesh.
The ISF Prize started at Rs 50 lakhs and rose to Rs 65 lakhs last year. "This year we plan to announce the prize at USD 100,000. Winners in India will get the equivalent amount in rupees," said Dinesh. Awarded across six categories, the prize honours scholars who have made outstanding contributions -- fundamental or applied -- in the fields of Engineering and Computer Sciences, Humanities, Life Sciences, Mathematical Sciences, Physical Sciences and Social Sciences.