The recent Global Innovation Index (GII) report, 2014, places India at the 76th position among 143 economies around the world. In the current ranking, India has lost 10 positions from 66 in the previous year. The trend shows that India is continuously lagging behind other countries.
Table 1: India’ ranking over the years in the Global Innovation Index
In fact, a deeper analysis of the available data suggests that many of the contemporaries are either improving or maintaining their positions in this innovation index. Table 2 shows the ranks of top 10 countries over the last four years. During this period, almost all the countries featured in the top 10 have been able to retain their places, nonetheless, there are ups and down in the ranks of some of the countries. Even among the emerging economies like the BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa), except India, all others have improved their positions. Brazil has moved up three places, the Russian Federation has moved up 13 places, China by six places, and South Africa by five places.
Table 2: Top 10 countries in Global Innovation Index
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Clearly, this poses two big questions – Is India slow at innovating? Or are other countries innovating faster? If the first assumption is true, we need to identify the reasons for our slow growth. If the later is true, we need to speed up our pace to catch up with other countries in terms of innovations. In both the cases, we need to develop an enabling ecosystem for innovation. The ecosystem of an innovation involves many subsystems. However, for innovations, two major support systems are very crucial. One is the government as a support system for promoting innovations in the country and educational institutions as another pillar for contributing through the required human capital.
But in India, there are several challenges with both these key subsystems. First of all, there are cultural issues in the present governmental structures and system for the creation of an enabling environment for doing business. These include enabling regulations required for starting business, growth of business, support for research and development and responsive system. The World Bank data from Doing Business report, 2013, shows that India is far away on these indicators. India stands at the 132nd position out of 185 economies across the world on the ease of doing business, 182nd on bureaucratic procedures and legal steps to get permits and 184th on enforcing contracts that obstruct smooth functioning of business ventures in the country.
Secondly, there are challenges related to enhancing the capacity of India’s human capital to match the world’s standards of research and innovation. There is no doubt that India produces and has produced some world class researchers and innovators. But the numbers are not very significant. Hence, in order to compete with the world-class researchers, there is a growing focus on increasing the number of researchers in India. For example, the Kakodkar Committee set up by the Ministry of Human Resource Development has suggested a ten-fold increase in the number of doctorates in the IITs in the coming years. Besides, there is a three-fold rise in the number of universities, and at the same time a five-fold rise in the number of colleges in the last ten years. There are now 700 universities and 35,539 colleges as of today in India. This has led to substantial increase in the number of doctoral positions in the institutions imparting higher education. But this rosy picture does not mean that all is well.
On the flip side, only one-fifth of the population has access to higher education in India. This is far below than most of the developed countries and even of the BRICS. Two recent reports, one by the NASSCOM in 2011 and the other National Employability Report 2012 by Aspiring Minds indicated that around 80 per cent of the engineering graduates were not employable. These issues lead to the debate on quantity versus quality in the higher education. In fact, there is a significant amount of learning available from various countries. China has significantly increased the number of doctorates (some 50,000 students across all disciplines) but is now facing issues related to the low quality of its graduates. Japan too has faced a similar crisis when it focussed on increasing the number of doctorates and postdocs. For instance, in 2009, the Ministry of Science and Education had to offer companies around US $47,000 each to employ its 18,000 unemployed postdoctoral students. This is mainly because the number of students entering into higher education dropped and academic institutions did not want more staff. Even in the United States, there are similar issues where doctorates are facing challenges to be employed in academics as well as the industry. So, what does it all indicate? There are several questions to ponder over – Is India running after producing graduates with higher degrees? Will these degree holders be employable in the future? And if yes, will they contribute in the national research and development process which eventually can match world standards?
Considering these situations, perhaps developing a suitable ecosystem for innovations can help in addressing both these issues i.e. cultural changes and capacity of human capital. Cultural issues in the system require mindset change and improving governance processes. Change in mindset, as we all know, requires time, where people need to act and then believe or vice versa. For immediate action, making processes related to setting up of businesses, regulatory mechanism etc. online with lesser turnaround time can be a good starting point. Capacity issues with regard to human capital require more intense work. Firstly, low enrollment rate at higher education indicates the need for improving the primary and secondary education. Preparing the feeders (i.e. primary and secondary schools) with appropriate resources and technology is a challenge but not impossible. Higher education too is in need of an overhaul to make graduates employable. This can be taken care by improving the teaching and research standards in higher education in the country. For this, we need to focus on improving the quality of doctoral level students through rigorous research process and quality of the output. Developing a zero tolerance policy for infringement of copyright or intellectual property rights is one such step to improving the quality of output. I still remember an incident when I found a book published by a senior reader of a state university to be a replica of another old book by a retired renowned professor of the same university. Such incidents can be dealt with by commissioning an online portal for reporting of such infringement and later designing a probing mechanism with considerable anonymity to the whistle blower. Developing an online system of tracking and publishing data of doctoral students – their research topics, progress, publications standards etc. across the country – can be another step leading to a more transparent system.
Though there are many big challenges, such small changes can open up new vistas for innovators in India. As one of the growing economies of the world and in order to compete with international benchmarks, India needs a serious focus on creating an enabling environment for innovations.
About the author
Gaurav works in the social development domain and has an avid interest in social innovations, especially educational innovations. The views expressed here are personal.