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The government has chosen the wrong way to address India’s research deficit

IN the just-released QS University Rankings: BRICS, 17 Indian higher education institutions are listed in the top 100 and five IITs in the top 20. Earlier, Times Higher Education (THE) had released its THE BRICS and Emerging Economies Rankings 2014, which had 10 Indian higher education institutions in the top 100, but only Panjab University made it to the top 20.

What is common to both the QS and THE rankings is China’s dominance over other developing countries. In the QS list, China has 40 universities in the top 100, 22 in the top 50, four in the top five, with Tsinghua University ranked first. In the THE list, China has 23 universities in the top 100, four in the top 10, with Peking University ranked first.

One of the reasons why China’s universities are well ahead of India’s is research. Philip Baty, editor of the THE rankings, is not the first to draw attention to the need for developing a “stronger research culture” in India. While a few institutions, such as the Indian Institute of Science and the IITs, do reasonably well in terms of research, India’s total research output — which stood at 3.5 per cent of world research output in 2010 — does not measure up to China’s, which is soon expected to overtake that of the Asia-Pacific leader, Japan.

There are two broad problem areas for research in India: funding and the research orientation or the capability of faculty. To begin with, India spends less than 1 per cent of its GDP on research, significantly less than what Western or many Asian countries do. Private sector contribution is a dismal 20 per cent of the total. The second problem is that nearly all research is carried out by a small number of people at an even smaller number of elite institutions. The majority of the faculty at higher education institutions does not do any research.

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