Economic Survey 2018 - Vol. 1, Ch. 8: Transforming Science and Technology in India (Download PDF)


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Why Science - 📝 Science, technology, and innovation have instrumental and intrinsic value for society. They are key drivers of economic performance and social well-being. They are also important for deeper reasons:

  • a scientific temper, with its spirit of enquiry,

  • the primacy accorded to facts and evidence,

  • the ability to challenge the status quo,

  • the adherence to norms of discourse and the elevation of doubt and openness

As India emerges as one of the world’s largest economies, it needs to gradually move from being a net consumer of knowledge to becoming a net producer.

India needs to rekindle the excitement and purpose that would attract more young people to the scientific enterprise. Doing so would lay the knowledge foundations to address some ofIndia’s most pressing development challenges in addition to maintaining a decent, open society.

Inputs and Outputs: Some Evidence

Research and Development Expenditures

  • Investments in Indian science, measured in terms of Gross Expenditure on R&D (GERD), have shown a consistently increasing trend over the years. GERD has tripled in the last decade in nominal terms.

  • Public expenditures on research have been stagnant – between 0.6 - 0.7 % of GDP – over the past two decades. Public expenditure is dominant, although its share has come down from three-fourths of all expenditures to about three-fifths.

  • The public investment is spread over the key government science funding agencies like Atomic Energy, Space, Earth Sciences, Science and Technology and Biotechnology.

  • India’s spending on R&D (about 0.6 % of GDP) is well below that in major nations such as the US (2.8), China (2.1), Israel (4.3) and Korea (4.2). It is also unique in how dominant government is in carrying out R&D.

  • In India, the government is not just the primary source of R&D funding but also its the primary user of these funds. There is a need for greater State Government spending, especially application oriented R&D aimed at problems specific to their economies and populations.

  • Private investments in research have severely lagged public investments in India.

  • India has no firms in five of the top ten R&D sectors as opposed to China that has a presence in each of them

  • India’s universities play a relatively small role in the research activities of the country. Universities in many countries play a critical role in both creating the talent pool for research as well generating high quality research output.

  • Publicly funded research in India concentrates in specialized research institutes under different government departments. This leaves universities to largely play a teaching role.

  • As a lower middle-income country, it is not surprising that India’s spending on R&D lags upper-middle income and high-income countries such as China, Israel, and the U. S.

  • In addition, most other countries, especially East Asian countries like China, Japan, and Korea, have seen dramatic increases in R&D as percent of GDP as they have become richer. India, on the other hand, has only seen a slight increase.

Ph. Ds. in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM)

  • The graph given below shows number of students pursuing Ph. Ds. in STEM from China and India.
Chart of Indian And Chinese phDs in STEM in the US

Chart of Indian And Chinese PhDs in STEM in the US

Chart of Indian And Chinese phDs in STEM in the US

Why the Number of Ph. Ds in U. S. from India Has Reduced in Recent Times?

The main reasons for decrease in Ph. Ds. are

  1. More attractive options after a master’s degree

  2. Rising work visa challenges.



  • In 2013, India ranked 6th in the world in scientific publications. Its ranking has been increasing as well. Between 2009 - 2014, annual publication growth was almost 14%.
  • The publication trends reveal that India is gradually improving its performance as measured by an important metric – publications.
  • Many journals publish non- peer-reviewed manuscripts for a substantial fee. The major catalyst for their explosive growth is “the demand created by increasing emphasis on the number of research publications as an important determinantof the academic performance of a faculty.
  • In addition to increasing publications, trends in quality are also slowly improving.


  • According to the WIPO, India is the 7th largest Patent Filing Office in the World.
  • In 2015, India registered 45, 658 patents in comparison to China (1, 101, 864), USA (589, 410), Japan (318, 721), Republic of Korea (213, 694), and Germany (91, 726). However, India produces fewer patents per capita.
  • Patents have grown much faster with income in countries like China, Korea, and Japan.
  • One major challenge in India has been the domestic patent system. While India’s patent applications and grants have grown rapidly in foreign jurisdictions, the same is not true at home.
  • Indian residents were granted over 5000 patents in foreign offices in 2015, the number for resident filings in India was little over 800.
  • The decrease in grants could have been due to a stricter examination process. Evidence suggests that there is a severe backlog and high rate of pendency for domestic patent applications.
  • The government’s recent hiring of over 450 additional patent examiners and creation of an expedited filing system for Indian residents in 2017 will therefore be a welcome and crucial intervention to help fix the existing patent system

Expanding R&D in India: the Way Forward

India needs to redouble its efforts to improve science and R&D in the country first by doubling national expenditures on R&Dwith most of the increase coming from the private sector and universities.

Some ideas are

  1. Improve math and cognitive skills at the school level

    No country can create a vibrant superstructure of R&D with weak foundations of primary and secondary education for so many of its young

  2. Encourage Investigator-led Research

    • India needs to gradually move to have a greater share of an investigator-driven model for funding science research.

    • A step in this direction occurred in 2008, with the establishment of the Science and Engineering Research Board (SERB), a statutory body of DST.

    • This body has sanctioned about three and half thousand new R&D projects to individual scientists.

  3. Increase funding for research from private sector as well as from state governments

    • The private sector should be incentivized to both undertake more R&D but to also support STEM research through CSR funds.

    • Current tax law already favors CSR investment into R&D, but the types of R&D activities eligible can be expanded.

    • Government can also work with the private sector to create new R&D funding opportunities, which are also in line with private sector interests.

    • State governments too need to recognize the need to invest in application oriented research aimed at problems specific to their economies and populations.

  4. Link national labs to universities and create new knowledge eco-systems

    • The separation of research from teaching has been an Achilles heel for Indian science.

    • Universities have students but need additional faculty support, while research institutes have qualified faculty but are starved of bright young students brimming with energy and ideas.

    • A closer relationship between the two in specific geographic and spatial settings would help nurture research in areas reflecting the fields of science in which the national research centers have strengths.

  5. 👌 Take a mission driven approach to R&D: India has the potential to be a global leader outright in a number of areas if it is willing to invest. However, this will require a deliberate focus in a few key areas. The potential missions given below were chosen for their strategic importance and potential for societal impact.

  6. National Mission on Dark Matter

  7. National Mission on Genomics

  8. National Mission on Energy Storage Systems

  9. National Mission on Mathematics

  10. National Mission on Cyber Physical Systems

  11. National Mission on Agriculture

  12. Leverage scientific diaspora

  13. Improve the culture of research

  14. Greater public engagement of the science and research establishment.

- Published/Last Modified on: February 8, 2018


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