Prof. Gautam Desiraju, a chemist at the University of Hyderabad, has an op-ed in today's Hindu on how China has raced past a lot of countries to become a big player in international science. Here's a key part of the argument about where our weaknesses are [with bold emphasis added]:
A word about student numbers and quality is necessary. The second-tier Chinese universities have around 100 PhD students each in the chemistry departments. The CAS chemistry institutes have nearly 1,000 PhD students. A single institution, the Shanghai Institute of Organic Chemistry (a unit of CAS), has 400 PhD students, mostly trained for future industrial positions within China. Such a thing is unheard of in India, where the student output is rushing headlong to the U.S. where it settles for positions with little or no responsibility, and often lack of tenure and security.
However, the number of PhD students per institution is roughly the same in China and India with each IIT, IISc, Hyderabad University or CSIR lab having around 100 chemistry PhD students. So in terms of efficiency, each of our students is far less efficient than his or her Chinese counterpart. It means our students are not well trained at the M.Sc. level and this, in turn, goes back to the B.Sc. (where much of the trouble begins).
Our most important screen for PhD admission, namely the CSIR/UGC NET exam, is just not discriminating enough and it is letting a lot of sub-standard students pass after attending coaching classes. This is not so in China where they are spending real money at the undergraduate level.
Without sounding unduly harsh, let me say that we lack the will, determination, and capacity for hard work to develop 100 excellent universities like the Chinese. Perhaps developing 20 good universities with funding at the Chinese levels is not beyond us given the present scenario and current realities in India. This would call for an outlay of Rs.2,000 crore a year. In about 10 years (and Rs.20,000 crore later), the benefits would become apparent.