Have Acche Din Arrived? Part 9

Have Acche Din Arrived? Part 9: Education, Science, and Technology

By Sheshadri Kumar

Education is the basis of the growth of any nation. Power, steel, and coal may be what we need for building things, but without educated minds the steel might just as well rust through disuse. The world is getting more and more complex, and our children and young adults need quality education in order to help India compete in the global marketplace. How well are we doing here?

It is quite hard to get data on education from the Indian government, as it is on several things these days, such as employment or healthcare. In fact, the absolute lack of any information from the present Indian government on employment or healthcare is why this series does not have an installment on either of these vital topics. The last data released by the Modi Sarkar on healthcare was in 2015.

These seem to be the two tactics adopted by the Modi Sarkar to avoid comparisons and to avoid objective evaluation of their performance – either do not release data, as in employment and healthcare; or, as in the case of gross output/GDP calculations and steel manufacturing statistics, change the metric completely so that comparison with past data is impossible. Most socioeconomic indicators such as literacy, access to safe drinking water, the number of recognized educational institutions in India, gross enrollment ratios, life expectancy at birth, infant mortality, etc., are only updated in the Economic Survey 2018 up to 2016 at the latest. For two years, we have been living in a data vacuum – which is convenient for those would rather that we do not question their performance.

However, using World Bank data until 2016, we can see how education spending has increased over time. (I am using two years as the minimum to evaluate the government; so data upto 2016 is okay, whereas having only 2015 data is inadequate). Some analysts have used budget information to know the education budget until 2018, and their conclusions are in line with what I am presenting here.

The average annual percentage growth in education spending for the NDA, UPA I, UPA II, and Modi Sarkar governments has been 0.6%, 10.9%, 7.4%, and 4.2% (upto 2016), respectively. This is a very significant drop in educational spending during the Modi Sarkar, and it concurs with reports in the media of lowered education spend. The IITs and IIMs have also seen significant drops in their funding – this lowered emphasis on education seems to be across the board.

The scientific output in the country from academia can be measured by the number of scientific and technical articles in journals. Data for this metric, available from the World Bank from 2004-2016, indicates that the annual growth in the publication of such articles was 13.6% during UPA I, 13.0% during UPA II, and 4.7% during the Modi Sarkar.

Some may ask how government spending on education influences the publication of scientific papers. Lowered funding for academia directly reduces funding for journal subscriptions, travel to conferences, and the like – and this can lead to reduced publications. Lowered funding also reduces scholarships for PhD scholars, and so there are fewer students to do the work for publications.

Another measure of scientific output is the number of patent applications, which measure original thinking and innovation. The average annual percentage growth in patent applications during the NDA, UPA I, UPA II, and Modi Sarkar governmentts was 32%, 16%, 5%, and 3%, respectively. While patents depend on innovative thinking, they also cost money. A patent lawyer may be needed to file truly significant patents, and these are not cheap – it may cost up to Rs. 75000 to engage a patent attorney to help you with the application. If the academic institution does not have the funds, they may discourage the publication of the patent.

Encouragement and incentives given to science and technology result in the growth of high-tech startups. This is important because the future competitiveness of India depends on these high-tech startups and the products they produce. A look at the trend on the annual growth of high-tech exports is very disappointing. It shows that these exports greatly declined during the Modi years but are slowly recovering. The average annual percentage growth in high-tech exports for the NDA, UPA I, UPA II, and Modi Sarkar governments has been 12.7%, 23.5%, 9.4%, and -6.4%, respectively.

Given the Modi Sarkar’s promises of a “Startup India,” these results are rather disappointing.

The overall picture one gets from all this is that of a government that really does not understand the crucial role that education, science, and technology play in the development of the nation. Without a strong scientific and technological sector in the country, our “din” are not likely to be “acche” in the years to come.

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