Funding the dream

its trained IT staff in demand around the world, India must reinvest in
education if it is to become a high-tech superpower in its own right, says
Paran Balakrishnan

Indian government has an ambitious plan to turn India into a high-tech superpower.
It wants to hook up one million Internet kiosks by 2005. And that’s only an
interim step: by 2008 it wants 100 million Net connections throughout the
country – a bold vision when you consider that there are currently only one
million homes in India linked to the Internet.

can the government turn this far-sighted strategy into reality? India’s dream
of becoming a software superpower rests with its army of programmers and
technicians, many of whom have fanned out across the world – and in some cases
even conquered Silicon Valley.

the supply of programmers could be starting to run dry, and that’s where the
government is stepping in. It is teaming up with the private sector to set up
new training colleges and add computer departments to existing colleges. Says
PV Jayakrishnan, former chief of the Ministry of Information Technology, which
is spearheading the government initiative: "Unless the government acts as
a facilitator to ensure the reach of information technology it will not be possible
for industry to grow at a faster pace."

there a real fear that India will run short of software programmers? Certainly
there are demands from around the world for trained personnel to man the
workstations. Look, for instance, at what happened when the British government
relaxed its immigration regulations for software programmers. In the last year,
18,257 computer professionals have entered Britain. Of these, 11,474 are from
India. By comparison only 132 are from Pakistan.

is currently reaping the dividends of the big investment in education made in
the mid-1950s. The country’s first prime minister, Jawaharlal Nehru, vowed to
shake off the shackles of colonialism and was determined to turn out large
numbers of engineers who could push ahead with development. To that end, he
ordered the setting up of the five Indian Institutes of Technology (IIT) in
Madras, Delhi, Mumbai, Kharagpur and Kanpur. By the end of the 1960s, the
Indian Institute of Management (IIM) in Ahmedabad was turning out top-quality

in recent years, the government has run short of money and is reluctant to
invest in these educational institutions. Luckily, the IITs have found new
benefactors among the ex-alumni who left for foreign shores and struck it rich
there. One ex-alumnus is billionaire and ace venture capitalist Vinod Khosla,
who has just donated $5m to his alma mater, IIT Delhi. In fact, the most
ambitious new venture is coming from the private sector, with backing from the
regional government in Andhra Pradesh, South India.

group of private sector companies have teamed up to start the Indian School of
Management, which aims to be a world-class institute with students from around
the world. The project’s founder dean will be London Business School’s Sumantra
Ghoshal, the management guru and author of bestseller Managing Across Borders.
Other backers include prominent expat Indians like Rajat Gupta, chairman of
McKinsey and Co, and Victor Menezes, chairman and CEO of Citibank. The Andhra
Pradesh government is chipping in with a large tract of land for the

government, meanwhile, is hoping to catch students at an early age and prepare
them for the future. The Ministry of Information Technology based in Delhi
wants to take computers to all levels of the educational system, including
village schools. It has suggested that ten schools in each of the rural
districts should be equipped with computers. It has even suggested that private
entrepreneurs should be allowed to open computer training facilities on school
campuses. The cost of equipping schools with computers is estimated at around

once, the government appears to be working in tandem with industry with its
ideas on how to spread the infotech revolution. The software industry is
desperately worried about a shortage of personnel and already salaries are
beginning to rise. This could be disastrous, as the industry currently depends
on its cost advantage.

is the way forward from here? The Indian government must turn its attention
back to education and start spending more heavily in this sector. That is the
only hope for real progress.


National Informatics Centre, which maintains Websites for the government of

For a list of government ministries and the Websites run by them: www.goidirectory.nic

For information on the white paper, see the Ministry of Information Technology

For more on how to spread the use of information technology in India, see:

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