"Developing things in and for India is so satisfying for many of our scientists that it has made it their mission to bring their country forward in research." Says Ashok Misra, president of the Indian Institute of Technology (IIT ) in Mumbai (formerly Bombay), one of the leading educational and research institutions in India.
Seven of these institutes are spread across the country. 58-year-old Misra is a professor of chemistry and specializes in the development of plastics. He sees his country on the road to success. "In our institute alone, we've doubled spending on research and development over the past five years, " he explains proudly.
In fact, India invests around 16 billion euros in research and development per year. In terms of gross domestic product, the Indian state spends more in percentage terms than Germany (2.8 percent compared to 2.5 percent); in absolute terms, the Federal Republic is clearly ahead with 55.2 billion euros (2005).
But Misra is also aware of the big problems in his country. As he drives through Mumbai's urban canyons, he encounters stark contrasts: on the one hand, the city is considered the most modern on the subcontinent, on the other hand, more than half of the estimated over 12 million inhabitants of the megacity live in slums. In addition, according to the latest figures from the United Nations, India is now the country with the highest number of people infected with HIV: in 2006 there were 5.7 million people - that's 200, 000 more than in South Africa. display
About one third of all Indians can not read and write. This means that half of all illiterates worldwide live in the country of 1.1 billion people. After all, the degree of literacy has increased significantly in recent decades: While it was only 18 percent in 1951, it climbed to just under 44 percent by 1981. Meanwhile, the proportion of those who can read and write increases by about one percent each year.
However, it took a long time for the New Delhi government to understand the importance of education for the development of a country. It was not until 2003 that the right to education was incorporated into the constitution as a fundamental right, and formal compulsory education for children aged 6 to 14 was introduced. However, this comprehensive mass education for all sections of the population, propagated under the slogan "Education for all", does not live up to its high standards. "This is due to the unequal economic starting point of the people and to administrative omissions", explains Henrike Lott from the South Asia Institute of the University of Heidelberg.
The historian studied the Indian education system during an eight-month stay in Mumbai: "It is based on the British colonial school system and consists of public and private institutions, with high fees for visiting the latter. There is usually taught only in English, which is advantageous for the graduates in the international market. But not all Indians speak the English language. "
In addition, although public and private institutions reserve seats for all sections of the population, the number of applicants far exceeds the quotas. This is one of the major differences with China, which is repeatedly mentioned in the same breath as India when it comes to economic growth: in China, educational institutions are accessible to almost everyone.
"Another disadvantage of the Indian education system is its great inequality, " says India expert Hans-Georg Bohle. He is a professor at the Department of Geography of the University of Bonn and a member of the German-Indian Advisory Group, which was founded in 1992 by the governments of both countries to develop bilateral relations. "About 18 elite universities, including the IIT in Bombay and Calcutta, face thousands of small universities and colleges whose quality is sometimes not even comparable to our high schools, " explains Bohle.
Although there are three million graduates every year, only one to two percent of Indian graduates come from the top universities. Ultimately, only between 30, 000 and 60, 000 highly qualified graduates come onto the market. For comparison, in Germany it is about 250 000 per year. The Indian focus is on engineering and science and information technology (IT).
Especially in the IT sector, India has taken a huge step forward in the last 25 years. In total, 300, 000 new computer specialists are trained each year. In the meantime, about 160, 000 software specialists are working at the already legendary IT location Bangalore - a figure only surpassed by the California Silicon Valley with around 180, 000. Here, according to Bohle, the Indians benefit from their ability to think excellently in the binary structures on which information technology is based. "They simply have a talent for that, " says the researcher.
In addition, Indian scientists communicate in English, giving them direct access to the latest US findings. The transfer of knowledge is reinforced by research and teaching activities of Indian specialists in America - but above all by the total of 80 000 Indian students in the USA.
But the Indians are not only in the IT sector to the top, they also mix vigorously in one of the future markets par excellence: in biotechnology. Huge economic centers have sprung up here, such as the Center for Cellular and Molecular Biology (CCMB) in Hyderabad. Around 100 scientists are conducting research on cell biology, genomics and bioinformatics. CCMB Director Laljit Singh is convinced that India, with its potential of specialists, could easily assume a leadership position in biotechnology.
There are enough examples of this. For example, by using genetic information, Indian research institutions and laboratories have developed low-cost AIDS tests and live vaccines against rabies. And by 2010 at least ten more large biotech parks are to be built. In this sector, one hopes for one million new jobs.
The approximately 300 Indian biotech companies already make a turnover of one billion dollars a year - and the number is rising. "Biotechnology alone is growing by 40 percent a year, " says Kiran Mazumdar-Shaw, India's wealthiest woman and head of biocon in Bangalore. The company specializes in the production of insulin and also produces drugs for kidney disease and several cholesterol-lowering drugs. Indian researchers are now world leaders in biotechnological support for organ transplantation and in the breeding of tissue structures in test tubes.
Therefore, the major German research institutions such as the Max Planck Society, the German Research Foundation and the Helmholtz Association want to intensify their cooperation with the state. The Indian biotech sector, like the IT industry, is already characterized by multiple collaborations between Indian and foreign companies and organizations.
Almost all global players have established subsidiaries on the subcontinent. On the one hand they hope for a new big market, on the other hand they use the low labor costs there. Henrike Lott explains: "A professor at Jawaharlal Nehru University in Delhi earns between 240 and 370 euros a month." A bioinformatics specialist can get 400 euros in an Indian company after a few years of employment. Better off are those who work for a western company. The German software giant SAP pays a young IT expert in Bangalore at least 1, 000 euros a month eine for Indian conditions a huge sum.
Lott does not want to talk about the exploitation of Indian specialists by western companies. But she points out: The research results, especially in the field of IT, mostly benefit foreign countries and only a few rich Indians. "She sees as the main reason that most people in India financially benefit from new technological developments secondly, that the infrastructure in many areas is catastrophic and therefore the new technologies can not be implemented comprehensively.
Lott suspects that compared to western standards poor pay attracts many Indian specialists abroad. In fact, ten years ago the brain drain was still at 100, 000 skilled workers per year, but now there are only a few 10, 000 who are leaving and many are coming back. But if you work in India for a foreign company, think twice before you leave your homeland. A monthly salary of € 1, 000 guarantees such a high standard of living in one's own country that you would have to earn ten times as much abroad to be able to keep up, "says Hans-Georg Bohle. The Walldorf-based software company SAP is particularly clever with its specialists: The company is increasingly hiring women, as Indians are traditionally more homeless and do not leave the country alone.
Meanwhile, the Indian state is trying to create more incentives by improving working conditions in research to keep its most capable people in the country. For this purpose, the SERC (Science and Engineering Research Council) was founded, which includes prominent scientists, technicians and technologists. The SERC helps the government identify new and promising technologies and financially supports projects of young researchers. To this end, the Research Council rates about 1, 000 proposals every year, especially in basic science and engineering.
The SERC deals particularly closely with the research fields of nanomaterials and organic chemistry, photochemistry, neurosciences and genome and climate research. Not to mention nuclear physics - after all, India has risen to nuclear power by building its own bombs.
This development has long been watched suspiciously by rival China, but in recent years, countries have begun to work together more intensively. China is now India's second largest trading partner after the US. And because in China, especially the economy and in India, the high-tech area is booming, some experts already speak of the extended workbench and the extended writing and laboratory table in the world.
Golden times for the research location India? After all, Deutsche Bank comes to the conclusion in two studies that the country has the potential to become a world power. The financial institution relies primarily on economic growth and expects further dynamic development, especially in the IT sector and in the textile and pharmaceutical industries. India's chances of becoming a leading science nation over the next few years are also good, according to Henrike Lott. However, the country's success will depend on India's development in environmental protection, education, and poverty reduction.
Here, Hans-Georg Bohle sees the biggest obstacle to India's ambitious goal: "India is already one of the top 15 science locations, and it is not excluded that it will be at the top in 50 years. But the country is still too torn, and it is questionable if this problem can be solved. "
Thus stands and falls the future of the science location India. There are 500 million poor, mostly living in central India, with 250 million people, mainly in the south and northwest, belonging to the rising middle class, with a transitional layer in between. In addition, there are few super rich. The huge number of poor is a huge mortgage for the entire development of India. Although the government has set up an employment program that guarantees every Indian 100 days of work per year, for Bohle this is too simplistic: "The structures and causes of poverty are ignored."
Wolfgang-Peter Zingel, graduate economist at the South Asia Institute of the University of Heidelberg, warns of exaggerated expectations. He talks about the problem of "two India": "It could be a ordeal, especially where the social conditions do not change, but the population in the cinema or television sees that in other parts of the country is very different." Problems that also China has to face in the countryside. The World Bank warns in this context: "The challenge for India is not to increase its growth, but to keep it at all."
Not to be underestimated are the bloody conflicts between Hindus and Muslims. So far, the government of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has failed to convince the warring religious communities of the benefits of a lasting peaceful coexistence. This is dangerous for the stability of India.
Sunita Narain also assesses the situation in her country rather negatively. Narain leads the Delhi Center for Science and Environment and is the patron of Padma Shri, the Indian Cross of Merit. The respected environmentalist is skeptical of the hype surrounding science in India: "The system is hermetically sealed off and far removed from our day-to-day problems. It's good if we can fly into space, but more important for everyday life would be more important than a functioning toilet flush. "■
Comparison between India and China:
Homepage of the Indian Planning Commission with a lot of information and figures on the development of the country:
Data, facts and backgrounds:
Country Profile India of the Federal Statistical Office:
www.destatis.de/download/d/veroe/ laenderprofile / lp_indien.pdf
· Especially in the biotechnology and IT sector, India is recording high growth rates. • For foreign companies, the country is attractive because of its skilled professionals and low wages. • Economic and social conflicts are slowing India's desire to become the leading science nation.