What can India do to promote higher quality PhD programs and avoid catch-up games with foreign institutions?
India needs to increase the quality and quantity of research. There are many compelling reasons for this. What matters is the need for an innovation ecosystem. It is clear that the economy is far more innovation driven. And innovation uses new knowledge to create value.
For example, algorithms created by machine learning researchers are used to innovate in different sectors and domains. In addition, knowledge gaps are often found in the process of innovation, and further research is needed to fill them. Therefore, a thriving innovation ecosystem needs research concurrency, and both need to prosper together.
India’s research ecosystem is relatively small and lags far behind major countries in terms of quality and capacity. Perhaps the most important indicator of the health of the research ecosystem is the quality and quantity of the PhD it produces.
In the United States, 2 million people have graduated from a bachelor’s degree program, with 185,000 doctoral degrees. In other words, about 9% of undergraduate students have a PhD. In India, the total number of undergraduate students is about 28 million, and the corresponding number of doctoral students is about 140,000, which is less than 0.5% of graduates.
There is no doubt that we need to increase the number of PhDs. The short-term goal should be to encourage 1-2% of graduates to choose a PhD. But quality needs to improve as well. To this end, we need to attract talented and talented graduates to the PhD. Currently, many of the students enrolled in the doctoral program are students who could not get a job, students who want to prepare for competition exams, and teachers who need a PhD for promotion. You also need to make sure that their output is of high quality. The institute also needs to deploy systems and faculty to achieve this. In the United States, the top 50 institutions make up 50% of PhDs.
A small survey was conducted a few years ago to motivate graduates. Some IIT graduates, B.Tech students, were asked what they needed to enroll in a PhD program in India. Better scholarships and infrastructure were in the answer, but the best feeling was the ability to spend a year at an overseas university.
This can be addressed by providing an Overseas Researcher (ORF) to a prestigious university to send PhD scholars abroad. The only condition is that the work done during the overseas period should form part of the dissertation, preferably under a joint program or guide with a foreign university.
This program is only awarded to institutions with excellent ranking and rigorous PhD evaluation systems, excellent past records with high quality PhDs, and competence and research records / positions. The ORF can be awarded to 100 institutions each year, leading to the activation of the program. If the institution were awarded 25 ORFs, each worth $ 20,000, the total would be $ 50 million annually. Even by Indian standards, this is not a large amount.
In the next round, the number of ORFs given to an institution can be based on the number of ORFs available to that institution, the number of universities attended by students, the number of co-publishings, support from partner universities, and so on.
Given that the ORF can only be established at universities that are unlikely to dilute its standards, such programs raise the bar for Indian students. Another important advantage is that the student is enrolled in an educational institution in India, goes abroad for only one year and returns to India to get a PhD. True collaborative research in such programs can lead to other collaborative research projects.
There is no doubt that you need to attract talented students to participate in the study and ensure that the output is of high quality. Without increasing the quantity, quality and variety of research, India risks playing catch-up games permanently.
The views expressed in this article are personal.
The writer is a professor and founding director of IIIT-Delhi and the author of Sage Publications in India.
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