Swaroop C H

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Innovation in Indian universities

02 Jan 2008

A while ago, I was asking myself Where are the killer applications on the web for India?

Today, when I read ReadWriteWeb's article on The State of Innovation in India, a thought struck me about the relationship between innovation and universities. Everyone knows the story of about how many companies like Yahoo!, Google, Sun Microsystems all started at Stanford University, how FreeBSD came out of Berkeley University, and so on. I hope you also know how the great Nalanda University in the 5th century was a hotbed of advancements (more on that in another story).

Is it that a strong ideas culture is instilled only in a good university environment and the ecosystem around it which includes startups and businesses? Perhaps this explains why there is such amazing stuff being incubated at the TeNeT, IITM.

It reminded of an article by Prabhakar Raghavan, Head of Yahoo! Research where he says:

India's real infrastructure problem--with no solution in sight--is not airports or electricity; it is the virtual nonexistence of graduate education and research in information and other crucial technologies. Consider this for starters: The U.S. produces about 1,400 Ph.D.s in computer science annually and China about 3,000. By stark comparison, India's annual computer science Ph.D. production languishes at roughly 40. That number is about the same as that for Israel, a nation with roughly 5% of India's population size.

Now you may ask why is this important? That is best explained by C.N.R. Rao, Science Advisor to India's Prime Minister speaking about why money is spent on moon rockets when there is poverty to address:

You cannot be industrially and economically advanced unless you are technologically advanced, and you cannot be technologically advanced unless you are scientifically advanced.



rambhai says:

well donot forget mate the software giants like microsoft and apple~~were formed by dropouts of the university~~yet i truly believe the environment has the most influence on your character

sathyan says:

I would say some of the premier colleges are nurturing innovation through their incubation centers. my friend who started hexolabs.com says their support was really helpful to start the business. it is worth a look at www.iitk.ac.in/siic

Prashanth says:

@Swaroop, Just IISc and IITM? What about the other IITs and IIITs? The IITs have a tough time getting good quality PhD candidates even now, with the limited number of IITs. The first priority should be to encourage students to pursue higher education!

Swaroop says:

@Prashanth: I don't think there is a dearth of students who want to pursue Ph.D. The fact is that Indian Ph.D wannabes go to foreign universities and not to IITs, just check the rosters of any foreign university to verify this or feel free to dispute me on it.

Swaroop says:

@Kalpesh: Yes, the mindset has to change. Although I'm thinking in a more wider angle - the mindset about going "higher, faster, stronger" rather than the current "pull each other down" mentality.

@Prashanth: The problem starts with lack of good institutions for research. AFAIK, there are only two good institutions in India for this (IISc and IITM) and only the best scorers will ever get into them.

Kalpesh says:

The mindset can bring about a lot of change.

How can one be great, when they are surrounded by people who scare you with the fear of failure?

Whether we become technologically advanced or not - time can tell. IMHO, we should not become hindrance to other people's growth (in life, work, education etc). We have to be a nation - where the privileged ones can pull the under-privileged people, with their own efforts.

What use is education - when it can't bring about change in people's lives at basic level? We can goto moon & kids in the streets of India don't get basic education.

All of us are responsible for such a sorry state.
There is an article on knowledge@wharton saying "Indians are privately smart & publicly dumb" - saying we will jump at getting benefits in short term - ignoring the long term effects.

Just my viewpoint - I neither agree nor disagree with what smart people have to say.

Prashanth says:

Promoting more industry research could help initially in building the interest in research in India. Currently, research is looked at as a not so profitable profession. However, with growing industry participation it would not only promote the number of PhD applications, it would also make research positions lucrative.

But of course that is only the first step. Once we get more people going back to college for higher studies, it would also enable better networking with like minded people and improve the chances of the next gen tech startups.


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