Now Reading
Latest Edition of UNESCO Science Report Offers Overview of STI in India

Latest Edition of UNESCO Science Report Offers Overview of STI in India

Photo: Michael Longmire/Unsplash

The UNESCO Science Report (USR) is a flagship publication of UNESCO and is published once every five years, and is an oft-cited report on science, technology and innovation (STI). The latest edition was published on June 11, 2021, entitled ‘The race against time for smarter development’.

Every edition has a chapter on India, and as in the 2015 edition, the chapter in the current one is also authored by Prof Sunil Mani, director at the Centre for Development Studies, Thiruvananthapuram. The chapter provides an overview of STI developments in India, with suggestions and recommendations.

Regarding initiatives to promote innovation on account of the COVID-19 pandemic, Prof Mani suggests finding new ways to finance research projects and amending existing IP rules to issue compulsory licenses on vaccines and drugs. The latter makes sense considering India’s and South Africa’s proposal at the World Trade Organisation to waive certain provisions of the Trade-Related Intellectual Property Rights Agreements.

On policies on harnessing emerging technologies, Prof Mani observes that despite our efforts, we haven’t adopted industry 4.0 technologies, and on jobs lost due to automation, he writes that this isn’t a serious threat now.

Despite some efforts, only a few Indian states have made significant progress in meeting their renewable energy targets. While Prof Mani discusses incentives to promote the use of electric and hybrid vehicles, he says nothing about policies on biofuels or on hydrogen as a source of energy.

He welcomes the increase in the private sector’s contribution to R&D. He emphasizes that the challenge lies in ensuring that increase in expenditure in R&D becomes systematic. Although there are startups focusing on manufacturing, they are promoted in specific sectors also. Hence innovative solutions that incorporate emerging technologies can be a positive outcome from them. Regarding publications he notes that Indian researchers are publishing more on themes related to Sustainable Development Goals. They are doing much better than the global averages, particularly in battery efficiency and pollution. In terms of the number of papers in scientific co-authorship, in 2017-19, the US is the largest collaborator.

In, number of researchers, it has increased from 157 million in 2011 to 216 million in 2015. The density has increased at a slower pace. It has grown from 9 Full-Time Equivalents in research per 10,000 in 2005 to 14 in 2018. But there are promising initiatives like the Atal Innovation Mission, the Prime Minister’s Research Fellows scheme. The ‘Impacting Research Innovation and Technology’ fund to address national challenges is a welcome one. So are the vocation skills programs and other measures to enhance skills, and more research in universities. The proposed National Research Foundation can be a big boost for academic research.

The job opportunities for science, technology, engineering and medicine (STEM) graduates have not increased. Employability of STEM graduates has increased from 34% in 2014 to about 49% in 2019.

This is a serious issue as every other graduate is ‘unemployable’. Regarding skill development there are programs like training 40 million people under the Skill Development Mission by 2022. Providing 450 online courses through The National Skill Development Corporation’s e-Skill India learning platform is commendable. To reduce Brain Drain, Visiting Advanced Joint Research Faculty Scheme and National Post-Doctoral Fellowships have been launched.

After analysing developments since 2014 , he makes important observations on STI in India. One is that the level of domestic investment in R&D is inadequate and research intensity has not increased. Even now, the level of patenting by Indian institutions and businesses is low. Non-availability of well-trained scientists and engineers is a constraint in percolation of technologies. Many steps have been taken in emerging technologies and in harnessing the potential of the fourth industrial revolution.

For enhancing technology, spillovers and valorisation of research, linkage between laboratories and manufacturers must be enhanced. Another suggestion has been to establish a single institution to facilitate coordination in innovation policies. This will help and to overcome the present ‘silo approach’ in policy making. For future competitiveness of Indian industry, a pool of technologies related to Fourth Industrial Revolution are essential. To develop them and to make them accessible to industry and business research programs are needed.

The chapter gives an excellent overview of the state of STI in India and makes important suggestions. On the downside, there is a need to update the data and information used in the chapter. There are misses like mentioning almost nothing on developments related to life-science and health. The USR has a chapter on gender and exclusion in digital revolution and transformation. Strangely, this chapter has nothing on it or on gender in STI. Similarly, governance issues in STI are not addressed. USR has a focus on digitisation and green transformation. That gets reflected in this chapter, although the coverage is not adequate.

To sum up, this chapter fits well within the objectives and structure of the USR. It is recommended to anyone who wants to get a good understanding of STI in India and its prospects.

Krishna Ravi Srinivas is a senior fellow and Consultant, Research and Information System for Developing Countries. He studies STI and science diplomacy. The views expressed here are his own.

Scroll To Top