The sleeping giant is rising to challenge global order

India's increasing productivity may lead to a 'new geography' of research worldwide. Phil Baty reports

October 8, 2009

India is set to overtake the world's leading economies in terms of research output by 2020, according to a new study.

The latest Global Research Report from Thomson Reuters says that India is a "sleeping giant" that is stirring, and warns that the US and Europe could lose out as its rapid growth creates a "new geography" of global research.

The report, India: Research and Collaboration in the New Geography of Science, says that India lags behind comparator countries in both research investment and output.

But the Indian Government aims to change that. Its five-year plan for 2007-12 includes a fourfold increase in spending on education compared with the previous plan.

In 2009, government spending on scientific research accounted for 0.9 per cent of India's gross domestic product; by 2012, the figure is expected to rise to 1.2 per cent.

The proportion of the Indian population holding graduate degrees rose from 2.4 per cent (20.5 million) in 1991 to 4.5 per cent (48.7 million) in 2005.

Using data from the Thomson Reuters database, the report charts rapid growth in the country's research output.

In 1981, India produced just 14,000 papers listed in the database, rising to barely 16,500 by 1998. But since then, there has been major growth to nearly 30,000 in 2007 - an 80 per cent increase in nine years.

Jonathan Adams, director of research evaluation at Evidence, a Thomson Reuters business, described India as a "sleeping giant that seems to be waking".

He said the 30,000 papers produced in 2007 still represented only 3 per cent of world output, and that the absolute volume for India is still only about half that produced by China, Germany, Japan or the UK.

"But if the trajectory continues, India's productivity will be on a par with most G8 countries (the world's leading industrialised nations) within seven to eight years, and will overtake them by 2020."

Scientific strengths

India is particularly strong in agricultural engineering, producing 11.21 per cent of all the papers published in the field between 2003 and 2007.

It also produced 8.32 per cent of world papers in tropical medicine, 8.29 per cent in organic chemistry and 8.24 per cent in dairy and animal science.

The Thomson Reuters paper says: "India's activity is diverse ... with an emerging balance between the life sciences and physical sciences."

It adds that the US is India's leading collaborative partner, although joint activity remains low.

"India appears to have been less well connected to international networks than other countries, but it therefore retains a significant capacity to expand its collaborative links," the report says.

There are already signs that collaboration with other Asian countries is set to grow.

Mr Adams said: "While India's partnerships in Europe and America remained largely stable over the past decade, it hugely increased its collaboration with South Korea. In fact, India doubled its collaborative output with Asian partners.

"This may well signal the emergence of a regional research network and is certainly an issue others will want to watch. India's research ties are marked by a sparsity of European - particularly UK - partners."

Mr Adams pointed to the possibility that the new geography of research may see not only new leading nations, but also a change in regional focus.

"Europe and the US will want to be partners, not just observers, of what happens," he said.

The report adds: "We suggest it is important for G8 partners to look to invest in their relationship with India before the opportunity to engage in such links ... is pre-empted by innovative regional neighbours."


Relative growth in volume of publications, 1981 = 100


Two British universities have established campuses in India.

Lancaster University's campus near New Delhi admitted its first students this month.

The campus, set up in partnership with Indian conglomerate GD Goenka, is based near New Delhi. It offers undergraduate and masters programmes.

Paul Wellings, Lancaster's vice-chancellor, said university staff would fly to India to teach the postgraduate courses, which will begin to accept students in 2010.

Lancaster's strategic plan for 2009-15 commits it to increasing its international-student numbers by 50 per cent and ensuring that one third of its student body is registered overseas.

Meanwhile, Leeds Metropolitan University has opened its campus in Bhopal, in partnership with Indian education provider JSWS.

Speaking at the opening on 24 September, Phil Clements, academic director of Leeds Met India, said its courses would follow the pattern and schedule of UK programmes.

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