January 4, 2012

India Aims to Double R&D Spending for Science

Michael Feldman

With Chinese HPC surging over the last three years, the US and Western European nations aren’t the only countries suffering from performance anxiety. India now is trying to play catchup with China. In a speech on Tuesday by Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, he called for spending Rs 5,000 crore (about $940 million) on domestic supercomputing to try to keep pace with China.

The initiative outlined by the PM were part of a broader strategy to push for much higher funding of science R&D in the country. A report by India’s IBN Live, notes that the country’s position in science prowess has been on declining relative to China’s due to increasing R&D investments there. From the report:

India has 17 percent of the world population, but publishes only 2.5 percent of the world’s scientific research. Meanwhile, China could topple the US as the world’s research powerhouse by 2013. In the 12th five year plan period, the Prime Minister hopes to double the R&D budget for science and technology from 1 percent of the GDP to at least 2 percent.

As mentioned above, part of that funding increase would go toward increase supercomputing capacity and capability, which would be implemented by the Indian Institute of Science, Bangalore. (Note that some reports in the Indian press imply or state that the idea is to build a $1 billion supercomputer, which is certainly not the case. The funding is clearly meant to build up supercomputing infrastructure and expertise on a much broader basis.) No specifics were provided on exactly how that money would get spent.

By the way, that 2 percent of GDP figure for R&D would put India ahead of China’s at 1.4 percent investment, but behind the US at 2.7 percent and Japan at 3.3 percent. But since all of those economies are larger that India’s, the country’s absolute R&D spending would still trail its competitors.

Also, it should be noted that despite the hand-wringing about Chinese ascendence in science and technology, that country still only accounts for 12.9 percent of global R&D spending. According to Batelle’s 2011 Global R&D Funding Forecast (December 2010), the US and Europe still dominate spending in absolute terms with 34.0 percent and 23.2 percent, respectively. India’s share of global R&D is just 3.0 percent.

The issue for US and Europe is that their global share of science R&D spending is slowly decreasing, while China’s and India’s is rising. That’s mainly the result of the much faster growing economies of the latter two countries in relation to the West, which has flat-lined (and during the recession, declined) over the past three years. During this period, neither the US and Europe have increased R&D spending as a proportion of GDP to compensate for the stagnant growth. Thus, the Indian Prime Minister’s plan to bump up R&D spending relative to GDP puts the country on a much faster path to increase its science and technology footprint — that is assuming the country’s economy can continue to expand.