INDIA: Science and research spending to double

The Indian government has said it will double its spending on science and technology research and development over the next five years, in a bid to keep up with other major developing countries such as China and Brazil.

The government will also provide more scholarships to arrest a decline in student interest in pure sciences, applied sciences and research, increasing the budget for scholarships and post-doctoral fellowships to more than five times its current levels.

The Department of Science and Technology will spend Rs150 billion (US$340 million), amounting to 0.6% of country's gross domestic product in the next five years.

The move is aimed at attracting the best students into science and technology research and making India a hub for innovation. The government also wants its scientists to find solutions to India's problems.

"India is the third largest growing economy in the world. In order to compete we need to enhance allocations for science and technology. Scientific research in the country must benefit the common man in terms of better sanitation, healthcare and sustainable development," Minister of State for Science and Technology Ashwani Kumar told local media in New Delhi.

Kumar said there was a need to increase the number of Indians acquiring doctoral degrees so that the country could satisfy its future needs for advanced research in pure sciences.

According to OECD data, India has 119 researchers per million of the population, compared to 1,564 in China, 2,706 in the UK, 4,605 in the US and 6,807 in Iceland. Even in terms of the number of researchers per 1,000 people employed, India, with 24 researchers, ranks below China (115), Japan (131), the European Union (231) and the US (324).

"The prime minister has repeatedly stressed that in the past [the] decline in pursuit of science studies has been a disappointment. We need to promote advanced research and scientific inquiry in various disciplines such as material sciences, biotechnology, nuclear and space research, healthcare and chemicals," Kumar said.

Human Resources Minister Kapil Sibal has pointed out in the past that India has only around 150,000 core science researchers compared to almost a million in China. He has said the university system would have to be strengthened, as quality R&D in universities was currently "negligible".

"The Chinese are doing a lot to promote science and technology. They have funded their best universities generously. They attract the best faculty from all over the world and have set up collaborations with the leading universities. Even if we want to compete we will have to set up the infrastructure and manpower first," said Professor Yash Pal, Chancellor of Jawaharlal Nehru University.

India's department of biotechnology is already strengthening institutional research capacity to promote interdisciplinary science and innovation by supporting centres of excellence in biotechnology. The department plans to establish 50 centres across the country. So far, 15 have been supported covering healthcare, agriculture, bioinformatics and basic research in biotechnology.

In 2008, the government launched Innovation in Science Pursuit for Inspired Research, INSPIRE, which offers 10,000 scholarships a year for youth in the 17 to 22 year age group and some 1,000 post-doctoral fellowships a year in the 22 to 27 age group in both basic and applied sciences.

The government is planning to substantially increase the scholarship grants, rising from Rs64 million (US$1.4 million) to Rs300 million (US$6.7 million) in the next five years.

Deepak Pental, a professor of genetics and former vice-chancellor of Delhi University, welcomed the government's move.

"We have ignored our science students for a long time. With growing numbers there is an immediate need to increase the number of scholarships and grants. The country desperately needs bright minds in sciences, not only in research but also in academics," said Pental, who was instrumental in reviving science departments at the university while he was vice-chancellor.

Under Pental's leadership, Delhi University tied up with India's top research laboratories. Since 2008, groups of top undergraduate science students have been undertaking summer workshops with the premier institutions, attending lectures by scientists and also working alongside them in the laboratories.

"The chosen students work in nanotechnology, molecule discovery and physical techniques in biology among others. The need of the hour is to make students competent in both research and technology," Pental said.