Bangalore: N.R. Narayana Murthy, Infosys Ltd chairman emeritus and a trustee of the Infosys Science Foundation, says the slide in scientific research in India cannot be arrested without a multi-pronged approach. Initiatives such as the foundation’s awards are an important instrument in “creating excitement” and fostering respect and recognition for science, he said in an interview. Edited excerpts:
The Infosys prize is now three years old. What sense do you get of its impact?
It is too early to assess the impact of any such initiative. However, I know one thing—in order to attract youngsters to science and engineering research, you have to create excitement, create incentives, recognition and respect. This is one of the instruments of doing that.
Learning curve: Narayana Murthy says the quality of teachers in secondary education needs to be improved. Photo: Aniruddha Chowdhury/Mint
If there are many things like this, if the government’s initiative to create a National Science Foundation to fund research gets going, if there are more institutes, more Nobel laureates giving lectures, if we provide adequate funding for faculty to travel and participate in conferences, and others come here from elsewhere, I have no doubt our youngsters will indeed be motivated to be worthwhile researchers.
What worries you the most about the state of science in India?
I believe India was ranked eighth in research in the 1980s. It slipped to 12th in the 1990s and we are out of the Top 20 today. Other nations have gone ahead of us. We should not let this slide continue. I believe that the number of researchers per million here is 119 or so, while in China, it is 1,540 and, in the US, 4,600 or so.
We have to make it easy for our researchers to access funds, to attract good students with good scholarships, participate in global conferences, and that they are recognized in terms of compensation and respect.
Chairman emeritus of Infosys, NR Narayana Murthy, talks about how research in India can be invigorated and what his company is doing about it.
Till 1970, there was so much respect for a research career in science and engineering. That has in some ways gotten reduced. We have to correct it.
Which area in science or education needs immediate attention?
We have to improve the quality of teachers in secondary education. More and more focus is needed there. Interactive sessions are important, rather than dictating notes. Students have to be encouraged to read the subject at home and come and have an interactive session. We must create an environment of curiosity, questioning and problem-solving. The world has not finished with its use of science and engineering.