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[NEW DELHI] India's prime minister, Manmohan Singh, has stressed his government's commitment to science by calling for urgent revitalisation of scientific research and education, and announcing plans for a Science Advisory Council.

The council — to be headed "by a distinguished scientist" — will advise the government on how science can contribute to India's development.  

Warning of the "deteriorating health" of the Indian university system during the past two decades, Singh said its reconstruction "must be a top priority and the issue has to be addressed comprehensively, not in a piecemeal fashion".

"While a few good scientific institutions have come up in recent years, they cannot be a substitute for the spread and vibrancy of the university system," said Singh.

The prime minister made his comments after presenting the Shanti Swaroop Bhatnagar awards, India's highest science awards, to ten scientists on Monday (14 September).

"Many Indian science and technology initiatives in the past have grown in isolation due to limitations that prevent the universities from absorbing them," said Singh. "We need to have a fresh look at the linkages between national laboratories and the universities."

He added that future science and technology programmes should strengthen the university system, and stressed the need to modernise university support systems for science, either drastically restructuring them or creating new independent, forward-looking entities.

The proposed reforms will extend to science education in schools, with the aim of making careers in research and development more attractive in order to nurture and retain young talent.

"It is saddening to note that science is no longer an automatic choice for the best and brightest of our students," Singh said. "Even among those who study science at the university level, many do not pursue a career in science."

This is despite the fact that over 100 global companies have set up research and development centres in India in recent years.

The prime minister also sought to end to a persistent debate in India — whether basic science or applied science should be prioritised — by stressing that both are equally important.

"In my view where there is good science, good applications follow," said Singh. "It will be our endeavour to promote good science, and useful applications will emerge from it."

Improvement of Indian science education apart, Singh stressed the need to strengthen science cooperation and networking among developing countries. He said special attention should be paid to forging new collaborations and research links, particularly in Africa, Central Asia and South Asia.

Link to full text of prime minister's speech