New Delhi: India sends as many students to the US for higher studies as does China, but an analysis of immigration trends suggests this supply is worryingly skewed.
While both the countries have sent a comparable number of engineering students to the US, China sent two-and-a-half times more science students than India, according to a recent study.
As for the number of doctorates from US universities—a sign of the quality of students—China is way ahead of India, even in engineering studies.
China’s prowess in basic sciences gives it an edge in areas such as nanotechnology, drug discovery and energy research.
The findings are from the India Science and Technology Report 2008, published by the National Institute of Science Technology and Development Studies (Nistads) and put up on its website last week.
The institute is a part of the Council of Scientific and Industrial Research, which oversees India’s largest publicly funded group of laboratories.
According to the US office of immigration statistics, on which the study is based, 26,000 Indian students moved to the US for higher education in 1998, compared with 58,000 Chinese students that year.
By 2005, the two countries were level at about 60,000 students. In 2007, China had a slight edge with 90,000 students against India’s 85,000.
But slice the figures further and between 1985 and 2005, India managed 8,172 engineering doctorates in the US, around two-thirds of China’s 12,784. Only 10,540 Indian students earned their doctorates from the US in basic science research, against China’s 28,893.
More relaxed US immigration policies may have contributed to India catching up with China in the number of students it sends to the US, according to the report’s authors.
But the bigger reason, they said, could be China’s sustained investments in science and technology infrastructure as well as institutions since the 1980s, giving students access to better education at home.
“Immigration policies have a role, but this is more a case of Chinese students staying back in their country for basic degrees. Their investments in the 1980s are beginning to bear fruit,” said Parthasarthi Banerjee, director, Nistads, and a co-author of the study.
C.N.R. Rao, chief scientific adviser to the Prime Minister, had in a letter to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh in 2006 warned that India was in “danger of losing its scientific edge” to China. He said that in the context of China’s research publication in top scientific journals being nearly three times that of India.
Officials say India is taking steps to improve its scientific infrastructure.
T. Ramasami, secretary, department of science and technology, cites INSPIRE (Innovation in Science Pursuit for Inspired Research), launched in 2007 to provide scholarship and assured career opportunities for basic science graduates, as a panacea.
“The IISERs (Indian Institutes of Science Education and Research) and new IITs (Indian Institutes of Technology) will significantly boost the quality and quantity of Indian research output. The next decade and a half will see the fruits of the investments that we are making today,” he added.