knowledge economy: countdown to 2047: can India truly become a knowledge economy, home to learning, skills and R&D?

South Korea transitioned to a knowledge economy in about 15 years. The short answer then is yes, India can also transform into a knowledge economy by 2047. The catch: India ranks 97th out of 154 countries in the UNDP Global Knowledge Index 2021, which quantifies the knowledge and development conditions of countries. Does it inspire confidence? Not really, but there is hope.

A knowledge economy creates value through knowledge-intensive activities, relying more on intellectual capital than on physical inputs or natural resources. The key to this transformation is a skilled human resource that creates the core of a knowledge economy – research, innovation, scientific progress and technological evolution. Interestingly, in the UNDP ranking, India was ranked 42nd for research, development and innovation and 8th for prominence of research institutions and first for internet and telephony competition.

Of course, we know the competition for IITs and the talent that goes into it. And increasingly, as incomes increase, a risk-taking attitude also takes root, which is a key element that encourages innovation. Clearly, the critical elements of a knowledge economy are all present. What is missing then? The enabling environment of quality higher education, learning environment, incentives and encouragement for R&D and infrastructure.

These things can be fixed with a little effort. Education reforms, greater public spending on R&D and resources to set up research centers of excellence, and investments in the ICT industry would be the starting point.

The private sector will have to step in at some point with a greater emphasis on R&D, encouraged by tax breaks or political support. Once the enabling environment is in place, the country’s human capital is unlikely to be lacking.

By 2047, will a major drug emerge from India, will the country’s engineers be able to develop a globally successful technological product, will India be able to become energy self-sufficient through breakthrough technology ? Why not!

Donald E. Patel