While STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) courses remain the most sought after academic disciplines worldwide, India is yet to visibly strengthen education and research in these fields. A new report by the Observer Research Foundation (ORF), a Delhi-based think-tank, finds India lagging significantly behind its Asian counterparts such as China and South Korea when it comes to investing in science. The country has one of the lowest R&D expenditure-to-GDP ratios, investing just 0.88% of its GDP in science research. Worse, whatever little is spent, is of quality and content that doesn’t meet industry needs, thereby undermining the employability of students.
As per the ORF report, over 25% of the spending on Indian science research goes towards basic research, which often finds little applicability in the real world, while rival China spends just 5% of its overall allocation. With this minuscule funding and a theory-heavy approach, it is no surprise at all that India has been outpaced by China when it comes to the number of science and engineering PhDs awarded—India has moved to 70 such PhDs per 10 million population in 2004 from 54 in 1983 while China, which lagged in India in 1983, has 174 such PhD-holders per 10 million. A Brookings Institution report from 2013 found that STEM graduates had a 14% premium on salary over
non-STEM graduates for a job that required a graduation certificate. Such premium, intuitively, would be higher for more advanced academic qualifications. With its large school- and university-age population, India can ill afford to be negligent of science education, both in terms of funding and content. Which is exactly why there is a strong case for an industry-driven education sector where curriculum and research is tweaked for real world applicability.