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[CHENNAI] India needs a paradigm shift in its approach to science and higher education, and must think outside of the box to foster innovation, the country's top science policymakers have said.

The Indian prime minister, Manmohan Singh, urged Indian scientists to "think big, think out of the box, think ahead of the times" during his opening address at the 98th Indian Science Congress in Chennai this week. Singh said that as the Congress moves towards its 100th year, in 2013, the Indian government plans to designate 2012–13 as the year of science in India.

Thirumalachari Ramasami, secretary of India's department of science and technology, said that India needs "a change in paradigm" to bring science closer to its people, and Indian science minister Kapil Sibal said the same was true for higher education.

"We need a new paradigm of higher education that is developmental and individually centred, environmentally sound and all-inclusive," Sibal said.

Sibal highlighted recent efforts to foster greater innovation: including announcements in 2009 of some 14 national innovation universities, and last year's establishment of a national innovation council to prepare a roadmap for India's decade of innovation (2010–2020).

"The approach and methodology for creating an inclusive and sustainable innovation ecosystem has to be essentially our own — that is, Indian," he said.

"Most of the publicly funded universities will, therefore, need to engineer vital changes in the manner in which they work; in the knowledge they generate; [and] in the type of education and research they deliver — including the manner in which they contribute to the local, regional and global communities and economies."

Sibal also outlined a 10-point innovation strategy. This includes enabling long-term interactions between the academia and the industry, a better integration of corporations with higher education and research institutions, and a significant increase in publicly funded research. It also includes providing more support for young researchers and upgrading technologies in small and medium enterprises.

Krishnaswamy Kasturirangan, a member of India's Planning Commission — which sets the country's five-year plans — and former chairman of the Indian Space Research Organisation, said: "We need to change some of the [science and education] policies". 

Arun Maira, another member of the commission, told SciDev.Net, that the commission itself needs to climb down from "the ivory tower" and "connect with the people" to mentor future national policies and plans. 

"The commission must transform itself into a systemic reforms commission," he said.