This newspaper recently published a series of articles on the state of science education in India. It quoted several teachers and administrators who spoke of the need for better funding and better career prospects for researchers.
Better funding looks like a simple solution. It is anything but. The central issue here is the vast gulf between teaching and research that our nation has nurtured. Our best young talent festers in under-funded universities, while the bulk of our research monies have gone to government laboratories and institutions.
In a 1991 paper in The Bulletin of Atomic Scientists called “India’s Lopsided Science”, scientist Dhirendra Sharma outlined what could be the root of this legacy. He told the story of how Homi Bhabha managed to impress upon Jawaharlal Nehru the benefits of having research carried out in exclusive government labs, while the universities focused purely on education. Meghnad Saha opposed this policy vehemently, but lost the battle. The consequences of this early policy direction are for all of us to see.
(Illustration by: Jayachandran / Mint)
Research must begin with our postgraduate students in a university setting. We don’t need committees to know this works. It has worked for top universities the world over.
But implementing such a programme is fraught with discomfort. First, as much research as possible must be moved back into our universities. This might mean developing several of them into centres of excellence and dismantling research organizations that have comfortably existed for decades.
Second, the money that is being poured into science and research must be disbursed with clear output standards. We must get return on these investments. And if it means creating new remuneration standards for researchers, then so be it.
Third, as in China, we need to create an environment for our diaspora to come back to kick off this change.
Else, we will be throwing more money after bad.
An indicator of the prevalent dichotomy can be easily seen on the website of Isro’s Chandrayaan project. Of the 23 participating research groups listed, 11 are Indian and all are Isro laboratories, while 12 are foreign. Of these dozen foreign names, at least eight are universities or university-participated research institutions.
Before we go to the moon, we could perhaps step over to Johns Hopkins University for a lesson or two?
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