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Does Technical Education in India Contribute to its Core-HRST? A Case of IIT Madras

Does Technical Education in India Contribute to its Core-HRST? A Case of IIT Madras
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  Science and Public Policy  May 2011 0302-3427/11/40293-13 US$12.00   Beech Tree Publishing 2011 293 Science and Public Policy , 38(4), May 2011, pages 293–305 DOI: 10.3152/030234211X12924093660156; Does technical education in India contribute to its Core-HRST? A case study of IIT Madras   Anant Kamath India is working towards becoming a ‘knowledge superpower’, expanding its technical education system. But despite a rapidly growing annual turnout of S&T graduates, there is still a disparagingly low ratio of R&D personnel in India’s workforce, worrisome for its future S&T capabilities. A disquieting trend has been that graduates from even the best S&T institutions have increasingly chosen future professional or academic avenues that have little to do with their training, due to which, over time, India has lost its best science manpower. On examining a distinguished institution — IIT Madras  — the paper unfolds the variety of interconnected incentives and disincentives at ground level that contribute to this situation. This paper is but a step towards indicating the vast amount of further investigation required in assessing whether India’s technical education system has sufficiently delivered in its role as the actor primarily in charge of competence building in India’s innovation system. HIS   STUDY   IS   ABOUT   certain   disquieting   dimensions   of    technical   education   in   India,    plaguing   even   the   highest   level   of    the   educa-tion   system.   There   is,   in   India,   a   startling    paradox   re-garding   its   science   and    technology   (S&T)   workforce.   On   the   one   hand,   India   has   a   well-built   stock    of    sci-ence   and    engineering   graduates   growing   at   an   impres-sive   rate;    but   on   the   other    hand    it   has   very   low   research   and    development   (R&D)   manpower    and    a   disappointing   number    of    technically   educated     people   working   in   S&T    professions.   According   to   this    paper,   this   is   due   to   discordance   in   its   innovation   system. Since   this   well-known   yet   scarcely   researched    is-sue   has   not    been   sufficiently   addressed,   this    paper    un-dertakes   an   exploration;   taking   the   case   of    one   institution   (Indian   Institute   of    Technology   [IIT],   Madras)   and,   on   gathering   qualitative   information,   exploring   how   and    why   S&T   trained    manpower    (spe-cifically   engineering   students   at   the   undergraduate   level)   from   this    prominent   institution   has   increasingly   opted    for    non-R&D   related    and    non-core-engineering  professions, in the context of the implications such  preferences could have on India’s S&T manpower and eventually its system of innovation. Before go-ing into the case study, section 2 illustrates the im- portance of competence-building and learning in a system of innovation, and why a systemic approach to understanding innovation is necessary at all. In section 3, the paper looks at the institutional setup in India for technical education and manpower in S&T; followed by a discussion of human resources in sci-ence and technology (HRST). After addressing the discordance in section 5, we move on to the case study of IIT Madras in section 6, culminating in an illustration of an interaction mechanism in section 7, showing the intricacies at ground level which fuel India’s science manpower paradoxes, and dilemmas in its technical education system. 2. Learning and competence-building in a system of innovation With increasing knowledge intensity in production and trade, the ease and speed at which innovation, learning and human resource-building is performed has become decisive not only for individual firms  but also for whole economies; thereby making knowledge a fundamental resource and learning a crucial process in the modern economy (Lundvall, T Anant Kamath is a PhD Researcher at UNU-MERIT, Keizer Karelplein, 6211 TC Maastricht, The Netherlands; E-mail: For acknowledgements see page 304.   India’s Core-HRST Science and Public Policy  May 2011   294 1992). Developing capabilities for learning and in-novation calls for building ‘knowledge-infrastructure’: the complex of public and private organisations and institutions and the skilled man- power within it   whose role is the production, maintenance, distribution, management, and protec-tion of knowledge (Smith, 1997; italics mine). Building knowledge infrastructure and skilled manpower is imperative whether an economy is a technologically advanced innovator or a borrower– modifier–adapter of imported technology. South Ko-rea, for instance, placed emphasis on building highly skilled human resources as a part of its knowledge infrastructure even from its early days as a borrower of imported technology (Kim, 1993). The desire for economies to build an advanced knowledge infra-structure and earn a reputation for being, like South Korea, highly dynamic in steering technological change is best understood through a systems of in-novation framework. In the late 1970s and 1980s, the need for a new  perspective in understanding the path towards a dy-namic and knowledge-intensive economy surfaced, taking shape under the banner of the national sys-tems of innovation (henceforth systems of innova-tion, SI) approach. Though it is hard to say whether academic research or policy initiatives made the larger contribution, it can be said for certain that it was mainly as a result of the interaction    between these two spheres that the development of the SI concept was formulated (Sharif, 2006).  Nelson, one of the chief contributors to the devel-opment of the SI approach, defines a national system of innovation as a system of interconnected institu-tions to create, store, and transfer the knowledge, skills, and artefacts which define new technologies; which include private firms, universities and other educational bodies, professional societies, govern-ment laboratories, private consultancies and indus-trial research associations (Nelson, 1993). Most definitions of SI refer to a ‘system’ of interacting in-stitutions, prompting this approach to be labelled a systemic  approach to the understanding of a knowledge-intensive economy and the innovation  process. While earlier approaches seem to assume away institutions, the SI framework holds them as  pivotal; not as bystanders but as core determinants of innovation process (Edquist and Johnson, 1997). However, the SI approach is not in any way a formal theory providing or establishing stable relations be-tween economic variables (Edquist, 1997). There is a milieu of activities carried out in an SI  besides R&D; one of them is ‘competence-building’, which calls for the training of skilled manpower and the establishment of the requisite institutions for the same. While institutions like private enterprise and government have been analysed in depth, university  as an actor in SI has received relatively less attention in the literature, despite its significance as the actor undertaking almost the entire competence-building activity, providing most of an SI’s skilled manpow-er. But there is no universal formula for competence- building since each economy builds institutions and manpower in accordance with the kind of innovative activity it seeks to undertake. Planning an econo-my’s future innovative activity will involve, to a great extent, crafting an appropriate competence- building strategy. Countries deficient in high-skilled labour have to import the manpower incurring significant costs — uneconomical in the long term — boiling down to the fact that developing one’s own manpower, that is, competence-building, is an indispensable element in developing a country’s future learning and inno-vative capabilities. A competence-building system in an economy, says Nelson (1993), even influences at-titudes towards technical advance. He says that em- pirical evidence shows economies like the United States and Germany, who revitalised university in response to industry needs, surging ahead in the realm of S&T compared to Britain, France, Israel and Argentina. The latter set of economies could easily include India as well, where university at large exists as an institution oriented more towards examinations and credits. Though university can assist breaking free from older rigid trajectories, it could well be the case that university might actually be causing the slow-down. In India, for example, a severe clash exists  between rapid technological progress in industry versus structural–functional rigidity and dull envi-ronment in university, the exception being only in a handful of institutions like the Indian institutes of technology (IITs). It is doubtful how India’s SI will  progress, given this kind of institutional drag. But on the face of it India does not seem poor or regressive in building up its technical education system. We study this in the following section. 3. Technical education in India: institutional setup and manpower Though aspirations to become a ‘knowledge econo-my’ began less than two decades ago, ideas of an S&T-based economy have been around since inde- pendence in 1947, when only 44 engineering colleg-es and 43 polytechnics accommodated a maximum intake of 3,200 and 3,400 respectively (AICTE, Anant Kamath is a PhD researcher at United Nations Uni-versity – Maastricht Economic and Social Research and Training Centre on Innovation and Technology (UNU-MERIT). Before joining UNU-MERIT in August 2007, he was an MPhil scholar at the Centre for Development Stud-ies, Trivandrum, India. He also holds an MSc in economics from the Madras School of Economics, India, and an under-graduate degree in economics, sociology and political sci-ence. He has participated in a number of international seminars, conferences and workshops, and his current PhD research is on learning through informal interaction and de-fensive innovation in low-tech clusters.   India’s Core-HRST Science and Public Policy  May 2011 295 2006). The large-scale setting-up of institutions im- parting technical education was deemed a priority at independence; a priority that has remained important ever since. There was active participation from pri-vate bodies and trusts, but it was the state that made the largest and most significant contributions in the setting-up of technical education institutions, 1  the  biggest being the set of world-class IITs. The IITs, numbering seven until 2007, include IIT Kharagpur (established 1951), IIT Bombay (estd. 1958), IIT Madras (estd. 1959), IIT Kanpur (estd. 1959), IIT Delhi (estd. 1963), IIT Guwahati (estd. 1994) and IIT Roorkee (estd. 2001). In 2008 and 2009, eight new IITs were commissioned at Ropar, Bhubaneswar, Hyderabad, Gandhinagar, Patna, Ra- jasthan, Mandi and Indore. Besides these, the central government in partnership with state governments established 20 National Institutes of Technology (NITs) across the country (an additional 10 were commissioned in 2010). Besides these there are more than 500 government-owned and government-aided engineering colleges offering degree pro-grammes, and more than 1,000 polytechnics offering diploma programmes. Other significant players are the ‘self-financing’ institutions run mostly by private  bodies, which do not depend on government grants for funding, and recover costs through exorbitantly high tuition fees. Quite   unfortunately,   with   the   exception   of    the   IITs,   some   technical   universities,   and    most    NITs,   the   ma- jority   of    institutions   are   of    gravely   substandard    quali-ty   in   infrastructure   and    teaching.   Also,   the   demand    for    undergraduate   engineering   education   in    particularly   South   India   is   substantial,   in   most   cases   far    outstrip- ping   enrolment   capacity   of    the   institutions. Public expenditure on higher education in India, including technical education, is only around 3.18% of GDP (according to the UNESCO Institute for Sta-tistics), very low compared to Brazil, Russia, Korea and South Africa, and other economies (Table 1). The All India Council for Technical Education (AICTE), set up in 1948, is the apex body for tech-nical education 2  in India, ensuring proper planning and coordinated development of technical education. Qualitative improvement of technical education in relation to planned quantitative growth and the regu-lation and proper maintenance of norms and stand-ards in the technical education system are some of its main priorities (AICTE, 2006). But despite the at-tention technical education has received and the es-tablishment of bodies such as the AICTE, reliable and regularly updated information is evidently ab-sent in India, and most of the data used in this study has come through the small number of existing sources:  India Science Report 2005  (NCAER, 2005),  Research and Development Statistics  (DST, 2002), MHRD (2005, 2008) or  Manpower Profile of India (IAMR, 2004, 2008). In fact, even some ‘latest’ sources dating 2008 possess data only until 2005– 06. 3.1 Growth and regional distribution of technical education institutes A stunning growth of over 600% in enrolment in technical education between 1981 and 2004 could have been possible only with a similar rise in the number of institutions (over 760% between 1981 and 2004) offering degree and diploma courses in engineering (IAMR, 2008: 57, 61). Figure 1 shows growth of engineering education institutions, along with growth in enrolments, in India. The highest spurts of growth seem to have occurred through the last years of the 1990s. Most institutions are concentrated in four states (Andhra Pradesh, Tamil Nadu, Maharashtra and Karnataka); the total number in these states exceed-ing the number of institutes in all other regions com- bined. According to MHRD (2008: B.3, D.1, D.2), in 2006, Andhra Pradesh, Tamil Nadu and Karna-taka together hosted 681 out of the 1,562 AICTE-approved colleges in India offering engineering courses at degree level. Among polytechnics too, these four states hosted 722 out of the 1,274 AICTE-approved institutions; of which Tamil Nadu pos-sessed the highest number at 209. Hence, these four states account for around 56% of all AICTE-approved engineering institutions in India, and Tam-il Nadu hosts the largest number of engineering in-stitutions (478 out of 2,386) in the country. Such is the regional disparity in the country in terms of technical education institutes. 3.2 Manpower in science and technology Of approximately 50 million people who hold at least an undergraduate degree in India today, about a quarter is educated in S&T; the fraction of S&T-educated among postgraduate degree holders in In-dia is around 19%, while this fraction leaps up to about 33% among doctorate holders (NCAER, Table 1. Public expenditure on higher education, as a percentage of GDP, for year 2006 Country Expenditure Argentina 4.51 Australia 4.75 Brazil 4.95 France 5.58 Germany 4.41 India 3.18 Japan 3.48 Korea 4.22 Russia 3.90 South Africa 5.39 United Kingdom 5.64 United States 5.70 Source : UNESCO Institute for Statistics     India’s Core-HRST Science and Public Policy  May 2011   296 2005). Technical education has lured generations of young people to apply especially to the IITs and  NITs. In the 1990s, there was a spurt in enrolments in engineering courses at the undergraduate level,  brought about chiefly by the rapid development of the IT-enabled services (ITES) industries in India. The annual increase in intake into engineering courses was the highest among all disciplines at the undergraduate level, leaping by more than 600% over 1981–2004 (IAMR, 2008); however, this is no reflection of the number who actually completed their courses. Interestingly, the percentage of female enrolments in engineering increased considerably. While in 1971 women comprised only about 5% of enrolment at undergraduate level (around 3% at  postgraduate and around 1% at doctoral), by 2001 they constituted a fifth of undergraduate enrolment (18% at postgraduate and 27% at doctoral levels) (IAMR, 2004). Coming to regional disparity, in 2006, around 50% of all enrolment in undergradu-ate-and-above engineering courses was in just three states – Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh and Karnataka (MHRD, 2008: D.12, D.14). Again, Tamil Nadu and Andhra Pradesh attracted the largest intake, together enrolling around 40% of all engineering students in the country; these two states enrolling more students than all other states (minus Maharashtra and Karna-taka) put together. In polytechnic enrolments, Tamil  Nadu and Maharashtra took about 40% of the intake, and the same four states enrolled 60% of students in India. So as we can see, popular opinion on India having a vast pool of scientific manpower is to some extent valid. But the truth is that India has a rather low global standing in the ratio of scientists, engineers and technicians to its workforce. Merely a large stock of S&T-educated people will not yield any  benefits for Indian S&T if these graduates are not, in the first place, engaged in S&T-related professions. In India only around 35.2% of the S&T-educated are engaged in such professions. It is undeniable that In-dian science manpower in ITES has gained global  prominence through the last three decades but, as will be seen, the numbers show that S&T manpower especially in scientific R&D is rather deficient (MHRD, 2005). 4. Human resources in science and technology As we have seen, skilled manpower is one of the most important components of knowledge infra-structure, important both to creation and dissemina-tion of knowledge, and for strengthening innovative capability. It is in this context that we bring up ‘Hu-man Resources Devoted to S&T’ (HRST) as ex- plained in the Canberra Manual  (OECD, 1995). The term was applied by Khadria (2004) for the first time to the Indian context, based upon which was its fur-ther analysis by the India Science Report (NCAER, 2005) and Khadria (2009). A country’s HRST is its  population that can be either HRST-E (human re-sources in science and technology by education,   Popular opinion on India having a vast pool of scientific manpower is to some extent valid. But the truth is that India has a rather low global standing in the ratio of scientists, engineers and technicians to its workforce Figure 1. Growth of engineering education institutions and enrolment, 1981–2004 Source : IAMR (2008), whose sources include various reports by the AICTE, NTMIS and MHRD     India’s Core-HRST Science and Public Policy  May 2011 297 comprising the HRST educated in S&T) or HRST-O (human resources in science and technology by oc-cupation, comprising the HRST employed in S&T-related occupations). So, defined in the Canberra Manual , HRST in-cludes those who have either successfully completed education at the tertiary level in an S&T field of study, or who are employed in an S&T occupation even if not formally qualified in S&T (OECD, 1995: 8). This definition is rather broad since it is based  both on notions of educational qualification and of occupation; also, in the manual, ‘S&T’ as such has a  broad scope, covering almost all fields of education and occupation, including the social sciences 3  (Kha-dria, 2004: 11). It follows then, that of the 50 million graduates in India, 13 million people who have had S&T education at least up to the undergraduate level fall into HRST-E. The growth in HRST-E has been 9.3% for the period 1991–2001, an improvement over 5.7% during 1981–91; but at the same time on-ly about 52% of the total HRST-O in India possess undergraduate qualifications, meaning that almost half of India’s HRST-O is under-qualified (Khadria, 2009: 35). If we view a cross-country comparison of number of researchers as a proportion of the popula-tion or as a proportion of the labour force, India stands starkly low, as seen in Table 2. The problem intensifies when we disentangle the already tiny R&D workforce in India (in firms and organisations exclusively engaging in R&D, includ-ing in-house R&D units of public- and private-sector industries). In 2001, out of around 300,000 person-nel employed in R&D in India, only 32% (around 100,000) were performing R&D activities, while the rest, 68% (around 200,000) were providing adminis-trative support and auxiliary services (Mani, 2002). Table 3 shows the number of employees and ratio of R&D personnel to total personnel working in R&D organisations in India. For 20 years the share seems to have remained almost the same. The intersection between the HRST-E and HRST-O sets is Core-HRST. In other words, Core-HRST is the set of those individuals who are qualified in sci-ence disciplines and are engaged in S&T-related oc-cupations. It is Core-HRST, rather than HRST-E and HRST-O, which is of chief importance when as-sessing the quality and scope of a country’s S&T manpower. In India, Core-HRST is in a dilemma, since only around 35.2% of HRST-E is engaged in S&T-related professions and, even within this, only a very small number is engaged in scientific R&D, and directly contributing to research. 5. Discordances The status of scientific manpower in India is quite grave — a large supply of HRST-E, yet its low pres-ence in the HRST-O, particularly in R&D. Looked at from an SI perspective, one can say that there is clearly discordance in India’s innovation system be-tween one actor — university (in this case technical education institutions) — and the other actors in the system. Though the technical education system was set up to cater to the manpower requirements of the other actors in India’s innovation system, in the case of scientific R&D it does not seem have fulfilled its role. Such discordance has the potential of stunting India’s innovation capabilities over the long term. India’s quest to become a knowledge economy will remain unrealised until this issue is addressed. Though problems plaguing technical education and science manpower have been well acknowl-edged by government and international organisa-tions, 4  and have appeared in academic discussions such as Khadria (2004), rarely have these dilemmas  — especially the issues on manpower — been sub- jected to research and enquiry using the SI frame-work, enquiring into the education system’s role as a leading actor in India’s innovation system. This is a much-demanded enquiry in the SI literature. There are a number of reasons why the R&D manpower or even Core-HRST is so low, and why discordance in India’s SI has to take place at all. 4  But there is yet another reason for this discordance to have taken place: that there exist a number of fac-tors that push students away from R&D and pull them towards other disciplines and professions. Stu-dents, including those highly qualified, may perceive opportunity costs in taking up R&D-related pro-fessions, and may see many disincentives to working in this line. In this study, it is this reason that is Table 2. Researchers in R&D Country Per million inhabitants (2007) Per thousand workforce (2005) Argentina 979.5 1.84 Brazil 656.9 1.18 China 1,070.9 1.47 France 3,496.0 7.74 Germany 3,532.2 6.91 India 136.9* 0.35 Japan 5,573.0 11.03 Mexico 352.9 1.00 Korea 4,627.2 7.67 Russia 3,304.7 6.37 South Africa 392.9 1.00 United Kingdom 4,180.7 8.47 United States 4,663.3 9.16 Sources : Hollanders and Soete (2010) for column 2 and UNESCO Institute for Statistics for column 3 Notes :  * Figures for India in column 2 are for the year 2005 According to the UNESCO Institute for Statistics,   researchers in R&D are professionals engaged in the conception or creation of new knowledge, products, processes, methods, or systems and in the management of the projects concerned. PhD students engaged in R&D are also included
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