Beyond Battlefield, India needs an innovation policy to take on China in R&D
For many years, Indian policymakers have been relatively complacent about the possibility of China developing technical and cultural prowess, given the extent to which the one-party regime impedes free thought and the extent to which China’s intellectual capital. China was damaged during the Cultural Revolution (1966-1976). During these years, as China was shaken by a populist frenzy and a rage against the elites, major Indian academic institutions such as IIT, IISc, JNU, etc. have had the opportunity to gradually strengthen. A policymaker of this period, feeling the reflected glory of the remarkable Indian intellectual achievements of S. Ramanujan, Rabindranath Tagore and CV Raman before independence, suggested that there was a flourishing intellectual tradition even without state support, which could flourish when there was a great increase in resources. India had a significant advantage through the use of English as a lingua franca, which fitted naturally into the global use of English as the language of science, technology, and business.
However, despite these initial advantages, the developments of the last decades have radically changed the situation. China is now one step ahead of India in terms of intellectual capacity. China moved from rank 35 (2013) to rank 14 (2019) in the Global Innovation Index, while during this period India fell from 66 to 52. That is to say – to say that in 2019, India was not yet where China was in 2013. While a few top Indian universities have gained ground over the past 20 years, they are between 301 and 350 in the THES classification. In contrast, the best Chinese university (Tsinghua) ranks 23rd. Leaving aside the pure question of world ranking, India’s top universities have an unbalanced emphasis on STEM subjects, while China has fully developed its academic capacities in social sciences and humanities.
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Whether we count the number of journal articles or patents, or look at quality metrics such as the number of citations, China is now far ahead of India. Although there is a stereotype of cheap Chinese products, of China as a manufacturer of low-end products, this stereotype is out of touch with reality. China has successfully transitioned from low-skilled to high-skilled production and has achieved high scientific capabilities in the private sector through which R&D and innovation – not just manufacturing – takes place.
A country’s innovation system is not based solely on universities. When it works well, there is a rich ecosystem that shapes innovation, including public spending in space / nuclear / defense, public research funding, public and private universities and other research organizations. , private companies doing science and technology at the frontiers and a system capable of providing venture capital. Each of these elements must have solid institutional foundations and all of these elements must interact deeply with each other. China has made significant gains over India in each of these elements.
We must therefore recognize the importance of innovation policy in the overall strategic picture of India’s problem in China and undertake a series of actions by which India changes course and returns to the remarkable achievements of science. Indian before independence.
We must approach innovation policy from three angles:
* How can the Indian state buy more from innovative companies?
* How can the Indian State better meet the needs of private companies in its internal R&D and better transfer the fruits of this knowledge to private companies?
* How can the Indian state better spend money so as to promote the development of the intellectual capacities of the country?
The first problem (purchases from innovative companies) is related to PFM issues of the public procurement lifecycle, from tendering to final payment or dispute resolution. Very favorable conditions for tendering often tend to exclude younger / smaller companies. From a business perspective, navigating public markets is a dark art that requires large investments in administrative capacity on the private business side and more feasible for businesses with political connections.
In order to address this problem, PFM reforms are needed to make public procurement more accessible to younger and smaller businesses. Such work has started in India in Pune, Maharashtra and Kerala. These models can be analyzed, constructed and implemented in all branches of the Indian state.
The second problem is to reduce the barriers between government laboratories / universities and the private sector. Too often in India the commercialization of intellectual capacities is seen as akin to corruption. A range of rules must change for public labs / universities to be respected and rewarded when called upon by individuals, when ideas come out of the ivory tower into the real world, when researchers start businesses and get directly involved in translating ideas into business success. There is a need to move from the publish or perish mindset and its journal orientation to patent, prosper and publish, in order to become useful in the real world.
The third problem involves a fundamental shift in perspective on public spending in space, defense, nuclear, health and science, where the focus shifts from hiring researchers in government organizations to funding research. research that takes place in external universities (private or public) and private companies. .
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When there is public expenditure on R&D, there is a character of global public good (an article appears on a website and everyone benefits). As India’s GDP grows globally, we should think about doing our fair share of global knowledge production. In addition, there are positive externalities that are imposed within the country. The classic history is that of the United States where, from the Second World War and then the Cold War, government programs in the field of defense-nuclear-space generated an impact on the knowledge of individuals and companies. in the United States, which laid the foundation for the technological and economic dominance of the United States in the world. There are important positive externalities when knowledge is produced in the country, when intellectual capacity is created in the country, which justify state funding.
The interesting public policy puzzle concerns precisely how state funding is transformed into the highest gains for the economy. In traditional Indian arrangements, organizations like the Broadcast Audience Research Council, the Defense Research and Development Organization, or the Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO) operate in silos, and there is a remarkable production of knowledge. and capacities, but the positive externalities imposed on the economy are small. . For a counterexample, consider NASA. NASA has a small core of employees and, for the rest, subcontracts everything to universities (public and private) and private companies. As a result, all of NASA’s public spending has a big impact on the knowledge of individuals in the country. Organizations like ISRO need to change course to embrace this way of working, where ISRO would become a team committed to high-level design and with expertise in public procurement.
This excerpt from Rising to the Challenge by Gautam Bambawale, Vijay Kelkar, Raghunath Mashelkar, Ganesh Natarajan, Ajit Ranade and Ajay Shah has been published with permission from Rupa Publications.
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