- The Washington Times - Sunday, June 24, 2007

THE WASHINGTON TIMES Special Report

MADRAS, IndiaDavid Appasamy vividly recalls his days as a youth in India‘sfourth-largest city, especially the long hours his family would spend waiting in line as government officials divvied up rations of sugar or some other precious resource.

“Sometimes people would be waiting in line and they’d run out,” he remembers.

Mr. Appasamy’s upbringing in an impoverished, post-independence India is not uncommon. Nor is the mind-set it cultivates.

“In India, a job is sacred. It means an apartment. It means marriage. It means taking care of your parents,” Mr. Appasamy said matter-of-factly over a cup of coffee. “Education is the ticket to a good job.”

He speaks with the candor of someone who knows. Mr. Appasamy, 49, earned his undergraduate degree at the Madras campus of the Institute of Hotel Management and later received a business degree from the prestigious Indian Institute of Management at Ahmedabad. He now handles corporate communications and investor relations for Sify Limited, a Nasdaq-listed Internet company dedicated to bringing Indians online.

The company is one player in an Indian information-technology industry that is expected to reach $60 billion in annual export revenues by 2010.The sector is growing 36 percent annually and is on its way to $18.1 billion for this year, the country’s National Association of Software and Service Cos. estimates.

Despite the phenomenal growth, Mr. Appasamy and other Indians shrug off suggestions that their country will overtake the U.S. in innovation any time soon. After all, India is a country with a 62 percent adult literacy rate where well over half of the population lives on $2 a day or less.

Yet, some say, American competitiveness remains at stake.

“By 2010, more than 90 percent of all scientists and engineers in the world will be living in Asia,” Joann P. DiGennaro, president of the Center for Excellence in Education, told government and academic officials at a recent Capitol Hill luncheon.

A McLean nonprofit that promotes math and science education, the center has joined a chorus of Americans who are concerned about a growing engineering gap — by some accounts 350,000 engineering graduates from India in 2004 compared with 70,000 in the U.S.

Activists also say graduates of top Indian engineering schools are showing educational parity with their American counterparts and threatening U.S. status as the hub of innovation.

With an admissions rate of less than 2 percent, the country’s flagship Indian Institutes of Technology is regarded by many as India’s version of Stanford University or the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Across seven campuses, the cream of the crop are focused on innovation.

Engineering professor Ashok Jhunjhunwala said “India was by and large very dormant” in the decades before the much-hyped year-2000 computer crisis put the country’s outsourcing industry on the map.

“The next phase is now.”

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