The fact that India rose five places in the Global Innovation Index in 2019 over 2018 is heartening. Innovation in India has thrived on the back of a large talent pool in STEM subjects, increased investment in the Indian innovation ecosystem by MNCs such as GE, IBM, etc, a jump in international patent applications filed—India saw the sharpest rise globally, as per filings with the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO), in 2018—top-notch institutes and its phenomenal strength in ICT. The scale of the domestic market and the GDP-growth per worker have been important drivers of India’s improved showing.
But, while India was one of the eight countries that received 82% of the private investment in innovation in 2017, its share has increased less sharply than that of other Asian nations. Moreover, while our top-rung universities and institutes (IITs Delhi & Mumbai, IISc) do well regionally, they have consistently remained out of the global top-100. Although the STEM talent pool in India is large, a large section of this pool may not be of high-quality. Moreover, the GER at the tertiary education level in India is a low 26% meaning, a vast reserve of potential research talent is lost. Thus, while India is within touching distance of breaking into the top-50 innovator countries in the world, it is still quite far from a China, which filed, for instance, 53,345 patent applications with the WIPO in 2018 versus India’s 2,013. India is an odd juxtaposition of stellar successes like the Chandrayaan and digital payments and a large number of unemployable engineering graduates and institutes that have virtually no autonomy. The government is trying to change this picture, foremost through the recommendations of the draft National Education Policy. The need, now, is to reform a host of sectors to make sure India breaks into the top-20 soon.