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India urgently needs more PhDs

In his SciDev.Net critique 'Indian science policy lacks a collective strategy', T. Jayaraman is only half right. While it is true that the government needs to do a much better of job of getting greater input from Indian scientists, Jayaraman is not sufficiently well-informed about the prevailing situation in India.

For instance, there has been a significant rise in the numbers of students graduating with science and engineering degrees throughout the country. This is true in states as diverse as the highly industrialised Tamil Nadu, and the relatively backward Bihar.

However, even though there has been an almost exponential increase in the enrolment of science and engineering undergraduates, postgraduate opportunities have not grown at the same rate.

Take Bihar for instance. It has over 264 colleges offering undergraduate science degrees, but only 16 offering postgraduate ones.

The quality of undergraduate education cannot be improved without more teachers with postgraduate degrees. In addition good postgraduate education needs more teachers with PhDs.

In Tamil Nadu, the situation is a bit better. There are about 400 colleges offering undergraduate science degrees, and about 240 offering master's degrees. But even a large university town such as Coimbatore has only 5-10 PhDs in its university science faculties.

Jayaraman is himself quite out of touch when he downplays the need to hire more PhD researchers in universities. At numerous educational conferences, this has been the single most pressing demand raised by senior educationists from all the small-town universities.

Indian universities definitely need the additional 1000 (if not more) PhDs in their science faculties.

Everything that can be done to facilitate that effort should be done. At least on this point, by seeking to increase the number of new PhDs five-fold over ten years, the government is on the right track.

Jayaraman is guilty of the very sin he criticises the government for.

How much research has he invested in his own assessment of the situation? Nothing in his critique is backed up by a single statistic or collective consultation. Or if it is, it is odd that he has not cited any of his sources.

Individual scientists should behave scientifically in this regard. They should first collect and investigate the data on enrolment, graduation and applications for postgraduate enrolment at key universities before sounding off.

My own data in this letter has been obtained by extensive use of the electronic search engines, and cross-referencing university websites and other higher education sites when available (http://gist.ap.nic.in/education/edumain.html).

In Britain, there are two postgraduate seats for every five undergraduate places. And 50 per cent of the postgraduate places are for PhDs (or higher).

In India, however, there are postgraduate seats available for only five per cent of undergraduates. And less than 20 per cent of postgraduates are able to continue with a PhD program.

Jayaraman should be clamoring for more PhDs — not discounting the need for them.