Indian universities lag behind in scientific research: study

Findings of publishing house Elsevier presented at science meet

 
By Dinsa Sachan
Last Updated: Saturday 04 July 2015

An analysis of research publications around the world has shown that while India is among the world’s top countries in terms of scientific research output, the country’s universities have fallen way behind in providing good scientific research papers. The results were revealed at the Indian Science Congress in Bhubaneswar last week.

The analysis by publishing house Elsevier, which brings out top science journals has shown that the proportion of scientific papers published from India has grown at a rate of 14.3 per cent annually in the past five years, catapulting it into the elite list of countries like the US, the UK and Japan.

Elsevier study findings

  • Scientific papers published from India has grown at a rate of 14.3 per cent annually in the past five years, catapulting it into the elite list of countries like the US, the UK and Japan
  • Most of the publicised research in India is emanating from research institutes as opposed to universities, which typically account for a country’s growth in research
  • Only one university—University of Hyderabad—features in the list of top institutes that contributed towards India’s research output in 2008 and 2009
  • India’s major contribution to the scientific world has been in the field of chemistry—38 per cent of the country’s papers in 2010 were on the subject
  • Contribution of computer science (4.8 per cent), health sciences (3.5 per cent) and medical specialities (4.3 per cent) towards India’s total research output was relatively low
  • India’s average citations per article (CPA) was 2.71 in the period between 2006 and 2010, while China registered a CPA of 2.21. While India’s CPA was far below US’s 6.45, which ranked first, the analysis found that India’s CPA has improved tremendously from 2.0 to 2.71 in the five years
 
But, according to the findings, most of the publicised research in India is emanating from research institutes as opposed to universities, which typically account for a country’s growth in research. For example, only one university—University of Hyderabad—features in the list of top 10 institutes that contributed towards India’s research output in 2008 and 2009.

Major contributors of research were scientific institutes like the Indian Institute of Science at Bengaluru, the Indian Statistical Institute at Kolkata, IITs and Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) institutes. J S Virdi, head of microbiology at Delhi University, says the overall contribution of Indian universities towards the country’s total output is minimal because the universities have the additional burden of teaching, while research institutes have only one purpose—to conduct research. “Funding is also a problem,” he says. “Most of my research money comes from the Department of Biotechnology, Department of Science and Technology, and the Union Ministry of Environment and Forests. These are very competitive funds. We have to fight hard for them. Only one in ten of our projects succeed in getting grants.”

India v China

The research group compared India’s research output with that of other countries, and found that even though China whips out more papers than India, India takes the cake when it comes to research quality. This conclusion is based on the assessment of a parameter called citations per article (CPA)—the number of times a paper is cited by other authors after publication. India’s average CPA was 2.71 in the period between 2006 and 2010, while China registered a CPA of 2.21. While India’s CPA was far below US’s 6.45, which ranked first, the analysis found that India’s CPA has improved tremendously from 2.0 to 2.71 in the five years.

The group found that India’s major contribution to the scientific world has been in the field of chemistry—38 per cent of the country’s papers in 2010 were on the subject. However, contribution of computer science (4.8 per cent), health sciences (3.5 per cent) and medical specialities (4.3 per cent) towards India’s total research output was relatively low. V M Katoch, director general of Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR), says, “Contribution of research output in health sciences hasn’t really declined. It’s just that chemistry’s contribution has increased.” He adds that 8 per cent of funds devoted to science and technology in the country are earmarked for health and medical research, with ICMR playing a major role in investigating neglected diseases.

Need to strengthen applied research

Deepak Pental, former vice chancellor of Delhi University, says that the rising proportion of papers in chemistry is a good sign. “Most of the drug discovery today is a consequence of research in molecular chemistry and other applied disciplines in chemistry. We need to further strengthen our research capabilities in applied research in chemistry. Basic research is important but applied research is what leads to progress.” He, however, adds that there’s inadequate research in agricultural sciences in the country.

The analysis also noted that while global share of articles with international co-authors is rising, it is declining for India, suggesting lack of collaboration with overseas universities.

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