India overtakes Germany on research output

Written by: Ellie Bothwell
Published on: 4 Nov 2020

A participant flies a tiger shaped kite during the International Kite Festival in Mumbai

Source: Reuters

India’s research output has overtaken Germany’s for the first time and is fast catching up to the UK’s, but questions remain on how quickly the country can make progress on research quality.

Figures from Elsevier’s SciVal database show that India published 187,000 academic papers in 2019, an increase of 5 per cent since the previous year, while Germany’s volume dipped slightly, to 182,000.

It means that India is now the fourth biggest producer of scientific research in the world, behind China, the US and the UK, while Germany is fifth. India is also closing the gap with the UK; the publication volume difference between the two countries reduced from 39,000 in 2018 to 26,000 in 2019.

In 2018, China overtook the US to become the world’s largest producer of scientific research papers, and trend analysis suggests that it may also soon lead the globe on research impact.

Experts applauded India’s progress on research volume but did not display the same level of optimism that the country would fast catch up to its competitors on research quality.

Eldho Mathews, deputy adviser at the Unit for International Cooperation at the National Institute of Educational Planning and Administration, said that the University Grant Commission’s (UGC) requirement that scholars publish in research journals to improve on academic performance indicators, and thus become eligible for recruitment and promotion, was a major contributing factor in the rise.

He added that PhD admissions in Indian universities more than doubled from 78,000 in 2010-11 to 161,000 in 2017-18, according to a report from the UGC.

However, Mr Mathews said that the incentives to publish had also resulted in the proliferation of predatory journals in the country.

Saumen Chattopadhyay, a professor at the Zakir Husain Centre for Educational Studies at Jawaharlal Nehru University, agreed that the UGC’s research requirements had both increased the country’s overall publication output and “led to a mushrooming of journals of low credibility”.

However, he said that this was an issue the country was attempting to tackle. The UGC has published a list of approved journals, while schemes such as the Institutes of Eminence and the “autonomous” university initiative hope to raise the quality of research publications.

Craig Jeffrey, director of the Australia India Institute at the University of Melbourne, said that the Indian government had “worked hard over recent years to increase the quantity and quality of its research output” and “the latest data suggest that this strategy is paying off”.

He added that India’s research productivity may increase further in the next few years following the launch of the new National Education Policy and the establishment of a National Research Foundation.

“A crucial area of focus will be the development of research capacity via the development of new research-intensive multidisciplinary universities – an Indian ‘Ivy League’,” he said.