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  • 'Fund Indian universities for excellence – not research institutes'

[KOLKATA] India must involve the university system in research and development rather than  concentrate on specialised institutes for excellence in science education and research, a national conference heard.

Experts attending the centenary celebrations of the Indian Science Congress this month (3–7 January) said India’s policy of promoting research institutes at the cost of the universities has deterred promotion of excellence among fresh graduates.

"Research and excellence comes from fresh young minds, so we should prioritise support to promote excellence in the universities," Seyed Hasnain, former vice-chancellor of the Hyderabad University told SciDev.Net.

India, after independence in 1947, set up many research institutes and concentrated its best scientists there, said Suranjan Das, vice-chancellor of Calcutta University. "This has kept research separated from education and deprived students the benefit of interacting with the country’s top researchers."

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According to Subhash Chandra Lakhotia, emeritus professor of Benaras Hindu University, priority given to research institutions has led to lack of recognition of excellence among universities. "It has led to neglect of the teaching institutions, poor fund allocation and infrastructure in universities."

"As a result, universities in India do not have laboratories with standards that can cater not only to research but also to basic teaching — an absolute necessity for furthering science education and research," Lakhotia added.

Deepak Pental, former vice-chancellor of the Delhi University, said research institutes that are separated from the university systems cannot be run properly because they "specialise in one or two areas and create fragmented knowledge."

"What we need are comprehensive universities. In the developed countries research is conducted in universities, which is why we have such a lot of interdisciplinary work there," Pental said. "They do not lay as much stress on research institutes, at the cost of universities, like we do."

Raghunath Anant Mashelkar, former director-general of the Council Scientific and Industrial Research, a chain of 39 centrally-funded laboratories, told SciDev.Net that there was a need for scientific excellence to be spread across the country and not "concentrated in a few islands." 

Hasnain suggested that in selecting centres of excellence for funding, central, state and private universities be treated equally.

Mambillikalathil Govind Kumar Menon, , one of India's top policy makers and former chairman of Indian Space Research Organisation, rued, in a lecture to the congress, that the concept of excellence was being lost in financial and administrative hurdles with the result there was "too little promotion of excellence."

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