Following is the summary of ‘The Big Picture’ discussion, which was aired on RSTV.
Host: Frank Rausan Pereira
Panellists: S.R. Tayal, Former Ambassador; Praval Singh, Zoho Corp; Dr. M. Balakrishnan Professor, IIT Delhi;
Please note that some inputs have been given by our team in order to make the topic more relevant to UPSC.
Speaking at the IIT global 2020 event, PM Modisaid that the post-covid world would be about ‘Relearning, Rethinking and Reinventing‘ and we are ready to ‘Reform, Transform and Perform’.
He urged the alumni of IITs to give back to the society in the form of creative ideas to mark India’s 75th Independence Day in 2022. He also asked them to ‘Debate, Discuss and Contribute to Solutions’ to the problems currently being faced by India, in the emerging World Tech Order.
Status of World Tech Order:
Importance of Data: Data can be considered as another dimension in the production paradigm. It has fast emerged as another factor of production, after land, labour, capital and entrepreneurship, in the fast-digitising world. Increasingly, the corporates and the government have engaged in a tussle regarding the ownership of data. However, there is a need to regulate the data to prevent its unintended usage.
Globotisation: This is a new term formed by the amalgamation of two words: Globalisation and Robotics. It refers to the growing importance of automation in the current world. Not only the machines are able to compile data, but given the improvements in Artificial Intelligence, they are also able to interpret it to form a coherent theory.
The machines are able to form questions on the basis of available data and provide answers to them, leading to the elimination of the need for human intervention.
India’s rise as a preferred product destination: India is on a journey to establish itself as a manufacturing base by leveraging the already mature software industry and a large, youthful labour force, to replace China and other eastern tiger economies (see inset) as the preferred destination for manufacturing globally.
Tiger Economy: This is a term used for an economy, growing at a rapid pace. Usually, it is accompanied by an increased standard of life.
Although there can be various references, but the term is usually used for the East Asian economies of Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand and Philippines. These countries grew rapidly in the late 80s, by virtue of a boom in electronic goods manufacturing.
Importance of Education in the new world tech order:
Medium of harnessing demographic dividend: To compete globally in the increasingly technological world, there needs to be a focus on imparting skills to the labour force, which are commensurate to the requirements of the modern competitive world.
Currently, India is in a demographic sweet spot, with an average age of 27 years. This is expected to last till 2030. However, the window of opportunity is fast closing as the population bulge shifts towards elderlies with slowing death rate and birth rate.
Promotion of heterogeneity: Educational institutions have the primary responsibility of disseminating the education to the lowest strata, so that these sections have a realistic chance of coming out of the vicious circle of poverty. For e.g. IITs need to be more receptive to the students from poor backgrounds, as well as make new students feel welcome.
Creation of inclusivity: There is a realisation that, given their responsibilities as the primary income earners of the family, many young students cannot afford a full-time higher education. In such a situation, there is a need to curate the courses and modify them to make it possible for a working person to attend the courses on weekends or in the form of night classes.
Shifting priorities to vocational education: There is the prevalence of a mind-set in India which looks down upon vocational education. There is a need to change this attitude as vocational education has established itself as more adaptable to industry requirements as well as a renderer of better outcomes, with better employability.
Leveraging the diaspora: India has a significant number of expatriates in the top leadership positions in various leading corporates. This diaspora can be leveraged to provide practical research experience to the coming generations, so that they understand the intricacies and the challenges faced in the real-life situations.
Challenges of the new World Tech Order:
Loss of jobs: Automation has fuelled the speculations that people, especially the unskilled labour, would be left unemployable, as they cannot be expected to compete with the strength, stamina and durability of the machines. This needs to be changed and alternative viable solutions need to be explored, if required.
Also, a vision needs to be developed with clear pathway of engaging the labour force in remunerative employment. For e.g. despite all misgivings about e-commerce, it has actually created alternative jobs for lakhs in the logistics sector.
Dominance of few MNCs: The rising dominance of companies like Google, Facebook etc. has put a question mark on the end-use of the innovations being developed in the private sector. Unlike earlier, most of the research is now emerging from the private sector. However, the private sector differs from the public sector in its focus on return on investment. In the private sector, safeguarding the public interest takes low precedence. For e.g. driverless cars do make economic sense, but they would render the current drivers out of employment. This might also create stress on the banking sector due to its exposure to the transport industry in the form of auto loans.
Neo-colonialism: Since the decision-making apparatus of the Multi-National Corporates is in the west, the profits accumulated by them flow to the west, thereby enlarging the gulf between the rich and poor world. This has been termed as neo-colonialism, with imperialism without the need for geographical expansion.
Increasing inequality: Due to the ubiquitous nature of digitisation, the people who fall behind the technological revolution may miss reaping the benefits of digitisation. For e.g., the students who do not have access to equipment or the internet bandwidth for accessing educational videos felt handicapped during COVID-induced lockdown. Similarly, even the affluent citizens with resources may feel left out because of low digital literacy.
Absence of high-value jobs: It is to be understood that many highly educated, accomplished people leave India in search of better prospects. There needs to be a better provision of facilities for such people to stop top-soil erosion or flow of talent to the western countries and the creation of a talent pool to be harnessed by the domestic industry.
Need for handholding: Despite having a strong start-up ecosystem in India, the domestic industry stares at a lack of top-notch incubation and guidance in the country. Here, the alumni of respected educational institutions can be brought in to create an ecosystem of Angel investors and venture capitalists, who can impart their experience to handhold the start-ups in different areas like marketing and funding.
Innovative thinking: There is a need to rethink the growth paradigm, focussed on our strengths. For e.g. the huge domestic market in India can be tapped to enlarge the manufacturing base.
To illustrate the point, India, being one of the largest telecom markets in the world with a humongous subscriber base, has not yet developed a domestic industry to milk this opportunity.
Similarly, despite having an acclaimed pharmaceutical industry, which is frequently referred to as the pharmacy of the third world, India still imports most of the medical equipment.
There is a need to ensure incremental addition in such fields, by reaching out at the base. Eg. We can start by creating a manufacturing ecosystem of mobile accessories to begin with, before graduating to the full-fledged mobile phone manufacturing.
Regulation of corporates: The government needs to come up with a regulatory mechanism to enhance public confidence in the corporates and other allied entities, to remove misgivings about the usage of data.
Need for a coordinated response: A disruptive change like digitisation needs a coherent response from world leadership. The drawbacks of digitisation and its outcomes need to be studied carefully and a discussion is required which can culminate in a plan to deal with the increasing omnipotence of automation.
Responsive policy-making: There is a need for quick response to the situations which need a faster turnaround. Also, the education system in India needs a policy response that can channelize the subsidies for better outcomes. For e.g., students who cannot afford a laptop need alternative resources to access online education.
Open courses in IITs: It is important to blend the flexibility of open courses and the value of more sought-after courses to create innovative solutions better suited for the domestic population. For e.g. students who cannot afford full-time courses, yet want to enrol in IITs, should be offered a tailored course suitable to them.
Increase spending on Research and Development: In India, the spending on R&D is less than 1% of GDP. This needs to be increased to compete in the global market. For e.g. South Korea spends 3.4% of its GDP on Research and Development, in which the private sector contribution is almost 70%.
At the same time, Research and Development needs to focus on commercial applications, rather than on theoretical studies.
Similarly, a public-private partnership in this sector will enhance the practical application of research, to create a synergy of best resources from the government sector with a focus on the efficiency of the private sector.
India is one of the centres, driving innovation around the world. However, the journey from being service-based industry to product-based destination would require a renewed vigour in the field of skill development and training of the fresh graduates, apart from changing the perception towards vocational education.
At the same time, the contribution of the private sector in research needs to be increased, with a focus on the commercial applications and the human-centricity of the research and development.
Weakness in the foundation of education has manifested itself at the apex of research in India. Critically comment, while throwing light on the government steps to increase research opportunities.