Future researchers? Indian interest in science is increasing, according to a new survey.

Indians Embrace Science

NEW DELHI--The first comprehensive study of India's emerging scientific workforce reports growing student interest in science--but sobering news about employment opportunities.

The India Science Report, released this week, combines information from a massive public survey with data on the country's higher education sector. The $500,000 exercise, commissioned by the Indian National Science Academy (INSA) and executed through the National Council of Applied Economic Research, New Delhi, identified 8.74 million science graduates (those with college level education in science). Another 1.8 million persons have advanced scientific and technical degrees, including 100,000 with Ph.D. degrees.

The welcome news, for Indian boffins worried about waning interest in science, is that the proportion of undergraduates pursuing science degrees has risen from 28.8% of the total enrollment in 1995-96 to 34.6% in 2003-04. Although the authors say that the reliability of the earlier data are questionable, the new data suggest that "the concerns about falling science enrollment in the country are misplaced." The data encompass the country's 200 universities and 12,000 colleges, which together spend more than $6 billion a year on research.

However, the same report raises a red flag about whether there are sufficient opportunities for those graduates to apply their knowledge. Some 22% of the country's jobless graduates hold science degrees, it reports, and a whopping 63% of those with advanced degrees and no jobs are in scientific fields. While those percentages do not represent the unemployment rate for those categories of workers, it's still a troubling figure for a country that prides itself as a burgeoning high-tech haven. "It's a wakeup call," says INSA President Raghunath Anant Mashelkar. "At the same time India is being projected as the next big knowledge super power, the employability of people trained in science is low."

The report also looks at the public understanding of science in India and concludes that "the level of knowledge about scientific concepts is very high." For example, 57% of the 347,000 people randomly surveyed correctly answered that the center of the Earth was hot. The study suggests that "television remains the primary source of information in the country and is almost five times as popular as newspapers," a surprising fact that may have been influenced by the inclusion of weather bulletins in science based programming. The study finds that only 0.2% of Indians received their science information from the Internet. The comparable U.S figure is 44%, according to the report.

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