While attracting scientific talent from abroad, erect as many barriers as you can. That seems to be the motto of our universities and the scientific establishment in general. The manifold difficulties of Indian scientists wanting to return home (as reported in Mint on Monday) testify this. This is in marked contrast to what another nation imbued with bureaucratic notions, China, seems to be doing.
It’s a known fact that Indian science never took off, if one excludes the strategic sectors such as space and military applications. One way to infuse life into science would be to get first-rate talent from abroad and make it mentor our best and the brightest. Unfortunately, we don’t want to do that. This at a time when there is no dearth of those who want to come back. The hurdles in getting academic appointments, bureaucratic procedures to get money for research and an uninspiring work environment plague Indian science.
Illustration: Jayachandran/ Mint
The Chinese experience is in contrast to what we are doing. China, too, lost a large number of its bright scientists and students who never came back after the 1960s. But it made a successful attempt to reverse the process beginning in 1994. Its $32 million “Hundred People” programme attracted Chinese scientists from abroad. These scientists were given no-strings-tied $242,000 research grants, good housing benefits, equipment and staff. Since then, China has followed this up with the “300 People” and “Changjiang Scholars” programmes. In terms of getting talent back, these have been successful.
What can be done to change things in India? To begin with, admit that a problem exists. Further, it’s important to give returning scientists generous research budgets that they are free to spend. This is important not only to get them back, but also to keep productivity high. One can, of course, demand results, but that’s very different from letting bureaucrats decide what to purchase and when. This will result in howls of elitism and encouraging “enclave mentality”. Such protests should be ignored.
In the long run, putting science back on the rails is a tough job. Privatization of universities, getting rid of unproductive scientists and letting scientists decide what they want to do are parts of the jigsaw. After all, the sectors where we have achievements to show, such as space and nuclear physics and chemistry, had freedom. Why not give it to those who want to return?
Can we succeed in getting scientists to come back? Write to us at firstname.lastname@example.org