Researching Innovations in Rapidly Growing Cities
Sabyasachi Tripathi, postdoctoral fellow at the Laboratory for Science and Technology Studies, Institute for Statistical Studies and Economics of Knowledge, talks about researching urbanization and innovation in Russia in an interview to the HSE Look.
Research Fellow, Laboratory for Science and Technology Studies
— What is your educational and professional background?
— I come from a very small town. In school there was a lot of emphasis on adhering to what teachers or parents would deem a ‘good subject’, so this is why I was focusing on economics at the time. When I passed the college tests, I got the highest marks in 64 years, and I was told to go to a good university in Kolkata - the Jadavpur University, it is one of the best universities in India. After getting my degree I got a chance to study for a PhD at the Institute for Social and Economic Change in Bangalore where I did my research on urban agglomeration and urban economic growth in India. I worked in Delhi for two years at Indian Council for Research on International Economic Relations and National Institute of Urban Affairs, and then moved to Punjab for two years to work at Lovely Professional University. After my daughters were born we moved to Kolkata where I work as an assistant Professor at the Department of Economics at Adamas University. I took a year off from my university to come do research at HSE.
— Do you have previous connection to HSE?
— Back in 2011 I was one of the students from India to attend the Lindau Meeting in Economic Sciences in Germany, or Lindau Nobel Laureate Meetings where Nobel laureates in economics give lectures every 4 years. I was looking at the researchers’ affiliations and found that some of them were also coming from HSE.
Later on when I started to work as an Assistant Professor and was creating a syllabus for undergraduate students, I was looking for examples at other universities, and found many useful things in the courses taught by Higher School of Economics. So, I was already familiar with HSE in passing by the time I saw an open call for postdoctoral positionsand applied.
— What are your main research interests?
— My PhD was on how to manage urbanization. Cities are said to be the engines of economic growth in developing countries, and I am interested in how we can address the poverty and inequality. In my research I want to focus on how urbanization can foster innovations, which in turn are necessary for long-term sustainable economic growth.
To illustrate the idea about urbanization creating conditions for innovation, let’s look at the cities as a concentrated network of knowledge and commerce. Best universities and business schools provide the high-skilled employees that innovative business needs, and competition drives the innovation level up, because everyone wants to do better to succeed. Different funding sources are also more abundant in the cities.
Here at HSE I am working with Dr. Evgeniy Kutsenko, the director of Russian Cluster Observatory, and I am researching how Russian urbanization has led to increase in innovations.
— How do you collect data for your research?
— That is a big challenge, actually, because of the language barrier. Dr. Evgeniy Kutsenko has an assistant who helps us to get and code data in Russian from government statistics portal, and I deal with sources in English. We are trying to measure how many commercialized patents have originated in Moscow region from 1997 up to 2017. We use this data to create a model and see which factors are contributing. We are planning to collect data on other Russian cities with population over 1 million people as well. Besides that, as city level data are inadequate we are also trying to get data for 84 regions in Russia.
— Do you already see any striking differences between India and Russia?
— Yes, like the percentage of urbanization, the total urban population by total population. In India it is very low - 31%, but in Russia - almost 74%.
Both countries experience advantages and disadvantages of urbanization, such as heavy traffic, health hazards and other things. That is why it is important to have sustainable growth, so that people have a job, access to good water, electricity, health facilities, as well as physical space for urban and community life. For instance, it’s easy to walk in Moscow – by contrast, in Kolkata it is difficult to navigate a pavement because of small kiosks.
Cities are expanding, but there is also a limit to what makes sense in term of transport connectivity, commute length and other things. How much commute time makes living in a large city unsustainable for a particular person? I do not know about Moscow, but in India it bigger cities are experiencing negative population growth rate. People are not coming to Delhi anymore; they are going to smaller towns like Raipur, Asansol, Surat- somewhere they can actually live with lower living costs.
— What should urbanization look like to be sustainable?
— Countries like Germany, France, Norway, Switzerland do not have many large cities, but lots of places which are attractive for people to live comfortably. I think it’s the key - we have to improve small towns to balance urbanization, but it’s a complex task involving many inequalities and resources distribution in the country.
We have to have better infrastructure facilities to provide to urban dwellers. In India, many people from rural areas do not come to cities because of language and caste problems, and their affinity towards home place. We have only 20% of urbanization due to rural to urban migration. Within that, only 5% are inter-state migration. The rest is happening within one state only. My policy recommendation is that if you want to increase urbanization, there should be good conditions, accessible housing and employment opportunities, as well as training programmes helping people learn new skills relevant for urban and digital economy.
— What are some difficulties that you face with the research?
— Getting data for 84 regions is very tough and we have about 15 indicators to assess innovation, so I work a lot, but manage to carve out some time to see Moscow on weekends.
It was very tough when I first came here because of the language barrier, but I made some Indian friends, and students from other countries are always willing to talk in the dormitory. I also enjoy discussing research with senior professors at HSE, both in my laboratory and outside it. I have my family in India and I miss them, but try to use this solitary time to focus on my research to a greater extent.
— Do you have any plans for the upcoming year besides the research?
— I want to go to Murmansk to see the polar lights, but I do not want to go alone because my Russian is not yet very strong. I would like to go to St. Petersburg also to meet my colleagues from campus there. If we think bigger, I would like to develop scientific collaboration between Russia and India because we are in BRICS but so far away from each other in many ways, and I believe it could lead to many interesting insights in terms of comparative research.