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[INDORE] Technical research and education in India is poor, and medical research does not match the country's needs, say experts.

Engineering colleges have a severe shortage of faculty staff, doctorates and post-graduates, said Palle Rama Rao, former secretary to India's Department of Science and Technology, speaking at the Indian Academy of Sciences' annual meeting in Indore, Madhya Pradesh this week (10-12 November).

Despite a five-fold increase in the number of engineering colleges in the past six years, high-quality colleges account for less than one per cent of them, said Rao.

India produces about 500,000 engineering graduates each year, but only 800 PhDs in engineering — a conversion rate of about one in 625. This is in sharp contrast to the United States, which has a conversion rate of about one in nine.

Even the much acclaimed Indian Institutes of Technology have recorded a much lower number of PhDs per faculty compared to advanced countries. 

While new technologies such as information technology, biotechnology and nanotechnology are witnessing an influx of new courses, the older ones — in manufacturing, aviation and microelectronics — present a dismal picture, with no new courses or research centres, said Rao.

Indian medical research seems to be faring no better, according to Marthanda V. S. Valiathan, former director of Sree Chitra Tirunal Medical College and former president of the Indian Academy of Sciences. 

Of the 20,000 medical research reports written in India from 1987 to 1994, only 58 were published in high impact journals, he said.

The top 10 fields of research did not include tropical medicine or respiratory diseases which rank high in India's national statistics on health, yet many papers dealt with heart disease and cancers, which are not the health ministry's priorities.

"There is a growing disparity between medical research and medical services in India," Valiathan said. "New tools from the west, and not societal needs, determine Indian medical research."

Unlike many developed countries where a single agency funds medical research, India has several agencies funding medical research. This causes overlaps, said Valiathan, especially in sub-cellular research.

He added that that "there are too few players addressing the country's disease priorities" and there is a "desperate need" to address India's weak capacities in epidemiology.