Act as if what you do makes a difference. It does.
- William James
India has made creditable improvement in the Global Innovation Index 2019 as it has moved up by five points from its 2018 position. The country’s performance becomes more creditable as it has risen 24 positions in the last four years, to rank 52nd among 130 countries. The World Intellectual Property Organisation brings out the annual index, which is a composite of 80 indicators that measure creative output, quality of institutions and of education, investments, etc. The ability to innovate is key to technological progress, which itself is an important driver of economic growth. The spirit of innovation is important in other areas of life also, of the individual, community and society. Imagination, as well as intelligence, plays an important role in innovation, and the social and economic environment provides the setting. Though India has done well in the last few years, for a country of its size and ambitions, the present ranking is below par. China ranks 14th, and even Malaysia and Thailand are ahead of India. Small countries like Singapore and Israel are in the top 10, where India should aspire to be. The youth have the most innovative mindset, and with the largest under-25 population in the world, India has the biggest advantage in this respect. But making the young healthy and educated is the first requirement, and India’s record in this is poor.
It should improve its school and higher education and raise the facilities and standards of research. While India filed 2,013 patent applications in 2018, there were 53,345 applications from China. There are few world-class universities or research institutes in India. There are few links between universities and industry. There are indications that research may be further stymied with the government’s insistence that scholars should select topics in ‘priority areas’ for their research. Spending on research and development (R&D) is low, both in the private and public sectors. While it is 2.7 per cent and 2.1 per cent of the GDP in the US and China respectively, it is a meagre 0.85 per cent of our much-smaller GDP in India. Both the quantum of spending and its quality should to be improved for the best results. Academic freedom is essential for excellence in education and research.
Students should have the freedom to think and act in ways that will not attract the charge of ‘anti-national’ conduct and treason. Traditional and hierarchical societies are not considered to have environments favourable for research and innovation. Only a free and liberal social milieu will bring the best creative and innovative talent out of individuals, and a spirit of questioning and the culture of dissent should be encouraged rather than punished.