17 April 2012 | EN
Improving teaching laboratories is one way to move Indian science forward
Good leadership and long-term strategy, not financial investment, will revive India's flagging strength in scientific research, argues chemistry professor Gautam R. Desiraju in Nature.
Raising the proportion of gross domestic product (GDP) invested in science from 0.9 to 2 per cent, announced by the country's prime minister, "is a haphazard plan, with no hint of new strategies", says Desiraju. More money is not the answer.
What is needed, he argues, is a change in the country's cultural and social problems. Indian scientists and researchers do not question or dissent, qualities that are essential for science. As a result research may be competent, but it does not inspire or excite. Connected to that is the unquestioning acceptance that age equals wisdom, which reinforces the positions of older scientists and discourages change.
Corruption in various forms is a problem too, writes Desiraju. It means that those who are well connected are favoured for academic positions, for example. Indian universities must start to appoint their own vice-chancellors "rather than suffer the choices made by conclaves of old men in New Delhi", he says.
India needs to find its own solutions to its problems, without resorting to comparisons with China. The true measure of a country's scientific strength is not the number of articles published in prestigious journals, but the number of competent teachers and lively students.
Desiraju suggests that policymakers should provide funding to a large number of small projects to create "a critical density of ideas and a feeling of mass participation and enthusiasm"; direct substantial funding to specific projects in energy, water and health, which could translate to country-wide benefits; and discourage younger scientists from chasing prizes at the expense of doing good science.
The country needs to plan with long-term measures, he says, such as removing caste-based quotas in research and improving teaching institutions and laboratories.
ironjustice ( Canada )
17 April 2012
Corruption. That is the reason nobody gets anywhere. One just has to read the papers and see Indian education is rife with payoffs and nepotism. Those with the money TO pay-off people or buy exams etc are able to do it in India. One must make higher education easily available to everyone.
arunedin ( India )
23 April 2012
Change needs to start with toddlers... if a systematic, rational foundation – where children are taught and trained how to think – can be given to primary school education, Indian science too will change.
V B Lal ( India )
25 April 2012
What ails Indian Science is not exactly unknown. The crisis of leadership is a major cause. Talking of universities, the appointment of Vice Chancellors has acquired the character of a scandal. Among other major factors, there is indiscipline in the universities, besides shortage of funds and insignificant number of teachers with passion for research. On top of it the UGC rules do not make it terribly difficult for a teacher with the requisite number of years in service to become a professor.
Considerable research is done in government laboratories. The problem of leadership is pervasive even there, though honourable exceptions exist. However, scientists in these laboratories are government- servants, and the virtue for them lies in conformity and obedience.
Naiyyum Choudhury ( Bangladesh )
25 April 2012
Money without proper leadership is a waste; however, leadership without money may not be effective in scientific field. The grim reality about developing countries is that there is no priority in the government to invest in science. So if Mr. Singh promised 2.5% of GDP to science it should be appreciated. An article in a prestigious journal like Nature saying money is not the main reason for a country lagging in science will have damaging effect on other developing countries where scientists are deeply handicapped about doing research for lack of funds and are fighting hard with the policy makers for more allocation in science. In most of the developing countries science and technology has the least priority in the development agenda and private sectors (India is an exception), are just not interested to invest in science. I remember a famous Finance Minister of my country telling to a group of eminent scientists who were asking for greater allocation in science saying that he knew that science grows out of brain and not out of the purse at which the scientists are looking at. The situation about science education is worse as the facilities, quality of teachers and lack of infrastructural facilities have made science education highly unattractive for students.
I agree with the arguments that the young generation should be given chance to rise breaking the hurdle of grey hair. However what sort of incentives are more desirable for them? A smooth environment with proper facilities for doing cutting edge research and proper incentives in terms of financial and other facilities so that they do not have to worry about maintaining their families, proper education for the children, health and social security. Urge for getting to leadership position and have say in all management affairs may not be conducive for proper scientific development of an individual. A couple of months back I wrote my views about the formation of a Global Young Academy. I thought I was right.
All SciDev.Net material is free to reproduce providing that the source and author are appropriately credited. For further details see Creative Commons.