As Asia drives ahead on innovation highway, India sputters

How do we innovate more?
How do we innovate more?
Image: Reuters/Vivek Prakash
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Asian countries are surging ahead in innovation and India’s struggling to keep pace.

A recent survey by Swiss investment firm UBS Research noted that India “badly” lags other Asian countries in terms of innovation on a per capita basis. India ranked 13th among 18 countries—including 14 Asia-Pacific nations, alongside the US, the UK, Germany, and Israel. The report tracked research & development (R&D) spending, education, funding, and patents in each region.

By 2020, Asia, on the whole, is likely to outdo the combined R&D spending by the European Union and the US, UBS Research forecasts. However, the boost comes mostly from the north of the continent—China, Japan, South Korea, and Taiwan. South Asia, meanwhile, “is in danger of missing out on an innovation dividend,” it said.

There’s hope

India’s R&D spend is dismal—a meagre 0.6%—compared to the size of its economy. Currently, there is only one active researcher per thousand workers in the country. By comparison, Israel, the winner in both categories, spends 4.27% of its GDP on research and has over 23 researchers per thousand workers.

Judged on an absolute scale, though, the story changes.

With $50.3 billion (Rs3.3 lakh crore) allocated for research spending, India’s R&D budget shows promise. It lags just Japan and Korea in Asia. With 546 researchers currently active in India, the country has the third-biggest research manpower in the continent.

The availability of elite educational institutions is listed as another high point for India. India beats Israel and is neck-to-neck with Taiwan, which hold the 3rd and 4th spot in UBS’s innovation ranking, respectively.

“The breadth of innovation inputs may not be high in India,” the report said, “but the tip of the iceberg is sharp.” Even though most institutes in the country are subpar, the handful of revered Indian Institute of Technology (IIT) campuses, with an acceptance rate of 0.7%, churn out some of the best researchinnovations and even entrepreneurs.

✊ = countries India beats when judged on an absolute scale