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The push for scientific prowess in India

Universities in the U.S. should follow India’s example and make research accessible.

Over the past year, India has made leaps and bounds in scientific advancements. According to the Nature Index 2014, a tool that quantifies the research contributions of a specific country, India came out on top among countries in “Central and South Asia.” This transition has occurred primarily for two reasons.

First, India’s economy has liberalized tremendously since 1991, when an effort by then-finance minister Manmohan Singh strove to reduce regulation and open up India to international markets. This is relevant to scientific discovery because as the economy grows, so do state revenues.

For the last two decades, only one percent of India’s gross domestic product was consistently allocated toward scientific research. As the country’s GDP has grown exponentially, the field of science has also seen exponential gains.

Second, and perhaps more importantly, recent changes by the government have propelled India toward a standing as a “research superpower.”

When the 2014 budget was released, the Indian parliament announced it would set aside 4 percent of the national budget for science-related research. More money meant more funds allocated toward scientific projects.

But the true capstone, I think, came very recently. India’s Department of Science and Technology and its Department of Biotechnology declared that any project and research under their funding would be published on public domain.

The departments’ reasoning was clear — the public should have the right to freely access projects funded through taxpayer dollars.

I think this measure can help boost the scientific prowess of higher education systems throughout the country, thereby helping to improve economic growth.

The Indian government felt the same way, publishing in a press release that this measure would help “[raise] the standard of technical and scientific education in the country” and help “foster a richer research culture.” This research culture can help bolster improvements in many sectors.

Here in the United States, we’ve already established some aspects of a research culture. One can often find free scientific literature through a quick search on Google Scholar. Most universities have purchased access to various journal repositories, including JStor or Elsevier, which give access to various paid journals. However, in my experience, many of these journals aren’t accessible to high school students or adults who are no longer in college.

Though India’s public-domain model would be harder to enact in the U.S., there are certainly some things that we should do to achieve the goal of greater research literacy. Perhaps professors at universities could choose to publish their work in nonprofit journals that have inexpensive or free memberships. This would help increase access to important research beyond campuses.

Until this is accomplished, however, both India and the U.S. have a long way to go before they achieve an efficiently functioning scientific culture.

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