Critical of poor innovation by Indian institutes of higher education, including the Indian Institute of Science (IISc), Infosys’ N R Narayanamurthy said in his address at the recent IISc convocation: “almost all inventions such as cars, electric bulbs, radio, television, computers, Internet, MRI, laser, robots happened thanks to the research by western universities. Let us pause and ask what the contributions of Indian institutes of higher learning, particularly IISc and IITs, have been to make our society a better place. Is there one invention from India that has become a household name globally? Is there one technology that has transformed the productivity of global corporations? Is there one idea that had led to an ‘earth-shaking’ invention to delight global citizens?”
Murthy urged higher educational institutions to work together with politicians and corporate leaders on focused research to make sizeable impact on society.
IE has been pointing to the lack of culture for research and innovation on the part of the three important segments well-endowed to do this- the government, private industry and academy.
The government started well and early. It set up several specialised bodies like the Council of Scientific & Industrial Research (CSIR), Indian Council of Agricultural Research (ICAR), Defence Research & Development Organisation (DRDO), Bhabha Atomic Research Centre (BARC), the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO)... for applied research. These, under competent leaders, had endeavoured to deliver results. But over time, most of them became bloated bureaucracies with limited outputs.
The second constituent, industry, is well-endowed with resources but has not nurtured a culture and commitment for R&D. Large companies like Bajaj Auto that flourished under the licence-permit-quota raj but did not exert on research and development: Bajaj auto spent just 0.17 per cent of revenue on R&D at a time when leading automobile manufacturers across the world like Daimler Benz were spending around 10 per cent of their huge revenues on R&D. The third leg, aca-
demy has been content, by and large, with research efforts stopping with research papers for degrees.
In the US, community support, alumni involvement and industry-sponsored research have driven innovation. For 2015, the research budgets of top US universities were indeed massive: John Hopkin spent $2106 million (Rs 13,268 crore), University of Michigan, $1322 million (Rs 8329 crore) and Wisconsin $1170 million (Rs 7371 crore). Local communities in the US provide thousands of acres of land for universities that today have student population of around 40,000 spread over several disciplines. A food product company like Heinz, offers handsome research funds for universities like Purdue to work on increasing the shelf life and pulp content of tomatoes that has the potential for millions of dollars of additional revenues.