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Need to Impart global quality scientific and engineering education

New Delhi: The Vice President of India Shri M. Hamid Ansari has said that our development plans have consistently emphasised the need for sustained investment in research and related activities leading to creation of substantial capacity and capabilities in science and technology. The fruits of this effort are evident in our nuclear and space programmes, information and communication technology services, automotive and pharmaceuticals industries and other areas such as agriculture, healthcare, bio-technology and nano-technology etc. Addressing at the “Closing Ceremony of the Silver Jubilee celebrations of the Jawahar Lal Nehru Centre for Advance Scientific Research (JNCASR)” at Bangalore, Karnataka today, he said that despite these achievements, it is widely felt that we are yet to realise our full potential in the field of scientific research and technological innovation. As the Indian economy continues on the path of rapid, more inclusive and sustainable growth, it will be all the more necessary to ensure that our capabilities in science and technology grow in strength. He said that many positive steps have been taken by the Government in recent years to give a boost to science & technology efforts. These are having a steady, incremental effect. The overall outcome, however, is a mixed one. The Vice President opined that it is clear that if our aspiration of becoming a leading global force in science is to be attained, a massive increase in S&T education will be necessary – both in quality and quantity. This would be essential in order to fulfil our domestic demand of S&T human resources and to emerge as a quality supplier of scientific knowledge for the rest of the world. Our strengths in original research in basic science have been substantial though science, done in India, has often led to striking new technologies being developed elsewhere in the world. It is believed that this is a consequence of the overall weakness of the innovation ecosystem in the country. We need to overcome this. He said that the modern state must of necessity be a welfare state and providing human security should be its principal target. In this endeavour, the men and women of science have to be in the vanguard. It is here that the relevance of creating and sustaining a scientific temper assumes critical importance, more so in an environment like ours where many people in our vast population tend to live simultaneously in different ages and oscillate between various shades of tradition, superstition and of modernity. This creates mental dilemmas because, as the poet Milton put it: ‘The mind is its own place, and in itself ‘Can make a heav’n of hell, a hell of heav’en’ Following is the text of Vice President’s address : “I thank Professor CNR Rao for inviting me to this function today to mark the Closing of the Silver Jubilee celebrations of the Jawahar Lal Nehru Centre for Advance Scientific Research, an institution of eminence dedicated to research and training in the frontiers of science and engineering. The Silver Jubilee coincides with the 125th Birth Anniversary of Jawahar Lal Nehru who is rightly called the architect of modern scientific and technological infrastructure in our country. He strove to promote scientific temper amongst citizens. He considered this to be the most potent instrument for combating the social and economic ills of our society and for transforming the country into a modern, secular and progressive nation-state. Nehru’s vision for science and technology is best described in his oft quoted statement of 1961: “It is science alone that can solve the problems of hunger and poverty, insanitation and illiteracy, of superstition and deadening custom and tradition, of vast resources running to waste, of a rich country inhabited by starving people…Who indeed could afford to ignore science today? At every turn we have to seek its aid…the future belongs to science and to those who make friends with science.” Based on this, our development plans have consistently emphasised the need for sustained investment in research and related activities leading to creation of substantial capacity and capabilities in science and technology. The fruits of this effort are evident in our nuclear and space programmes, information and communication technology services, automotive and pharmaceuticals industries and other areas such as agriculture, healthcare, bio-technology and nano-technology etc. Despite these achievements, it is widely felt that we are yet to realise our full potential in the field of scientific research and technological innovation. As the Indian economy continues on the path of rapid, more inclusive and sustainable growth, it will be all the more necessary to ensure that our capabilities in science and technology grow in strength. Many positive steps have been taken by the Government in recent years to give a boost to science & technology efforts. These are having a steady, incremental effect. The overall outcome, however, is a mixed one. A paper titled ‘The Research and Innovation Performance of the G-20’ published by Thomson Reuters in March 2014, gives some relevant data on the Indian science sector: 1. It gained growth momentum in the last decade. India, like China, is rapidly enlarging its research presence globally. India’s output of Science papers expanded nearly three times the world average from 2003-2012. Due to this our share in world output increased from 2.5% to 3.6%. According to one estimate, we moved from 15th position in 2003 to 9th position in 2010 in terms of scientific publications. 2. Citation impact rose from about half to three quarters of the world average during the decade. While our contribution of highly cited papers, as a percentage of total output, has improved, it has remained stubbornly low, achieving by 2011 only about half of the 1% expected. 3. In the 2005 to 2012 period, published patent applications originating from India have oscillated between 4,000 and 7,000 per annum, maintaining an average over the period of around 5,900 per annum, which is around the same level as Australia and Great Britain. However, with a population of over 1.2 billion compared to 22 million for Australia and 62 million for Great Britain, this level can be considered particularly low. 4. Inventiveness in basic science, as indicated by creation of intellectual property, is low and India’s innovation system ranking varies between 50 and 60 among the nations. Domestic innovation has remained stable from 2005 to 2012 at around 29%. Nearly two thirds of all Indian patent applications in 2012 were from foreign concerns seeking protection for their innovations in the Indian market. In a report titled ‘Science in India (2004-2013) Decade of Achievements and Rising Aspirations’ prepared by the Science Advisory Council to the Prime Minister, some other challenges have been highlighted, which need to be looked at carefully: • The percentage of our GDP spent on research and development has stagnated at around 1% for over two decades. Asian countries like China and South Korea have out left us behind in R&D expenditure. Moreover, two-thirds of this expenditure comes from central government and only a quarter from industry. We need to increase the overall expenditure to at least 2% by 2017, as envisaged in the 12th Five Year Plan. More importantly, industry has to increase its contribution to R&D expenditure and bring it in line with the share contributed by industry in other comparable countries. • At the school-leaving level there is great enthusiasm for science. However, as a career option for our students, science continues to rank below other streams, mainly because it is seen as offering fewer opportunities. Consequently, there is a shortage of required human resources in higher education in sciences, including in advanced research. • At higher educational levels, in 2005-06, India produced about 1000 PhDs in engineering and technology, whereas the US and China were already producing about eight times as many in 2004- 05. In areas such as computer science, the situation is serious, with only 25 or so PhDs being produced per year in India. • During 2004-06, India produced one research scientist for every 7100 people; China 1 in 1080, S. Korea 1 in 240, Sweden 1 in 163. It is thus clear that if our aspiration of becoming a leading global force in science is to be attained, a massive increase in S&T education will be necessary – both in quality and quantity. This would be essential in order to fulfil our domestic demand of S&T human resources and to emerge as a quality supplier of scientific knowledge for the rest of the world. Our strengths in original research in basic science have been substantial though science, done in India, has often led to striking new technologies being developed elsewhere in the world. It is believed that this is a consequence of the overall weakness of the innovation ecosystem in the country. We need to overcome this. To begin with, the widespread perception that basic science is not relevant for technology has to be dispelled. The PM’s Scientific Advisory Council Report, which I quoted earlier, rightly asserts that the results of basic research are prerequisites for many future technological advances and societal benefits. Tomorrow’s technology often depends on today’s basic science. Innovative solutions will, therefore, have to be encouraged so that ideas which germinate in research centres reach the market place and go on to benefit the society. The above facts and figures suggest that while there has been some progress, much more needs to be done if we are to be counted amongst the top ranked countries in the world in scientific and technological research. In the years ahead, Government, private sector, industry, civil society, educational institutions and all of us, will have to work collectively towards: (a) Increasing India’s contribution to global scientific literature to the desired levels, including in highly cited papers; (b) Increasing our ownership of intellectual assets, through higher levels of patenting; (c) Making pursuit of scientific research an attractive career option for our youth and students; (d) Imparting global quality scientific and engineering education to our students to create the required human resources, for our own needs and for the rest of the world; (e) Creating an environment which encourages free thinking research and innovation in all spheres of science; (f) Ensuring that some of our educational institutions, existing and new, should be ranked amongst the top 50 in the world. It is important, however, to keep in mind that mere increase in the numbers of Ph.Ds or scientific institutions and publications or patents is not an end in itself. These are means to promote the wellbeing and progress of all sections of our society. The challenge before you, ladies and gentlemen, is to ensure that your work here in frontier areas of science and engineering through your seven units and outreach programs helps in identifying the causes behind our insufficient progress in some areas of agriculture, in achieving energy independence and efficient water management, in tackling climate change, and in providing universal healthcare and education and shelter for all. The modern state must of necessity be a welfare state and providing human security should be its principal target. In this endeavour, the men and women of science have to be in the vanguard. It is here that the relevance of creating and sustaining a scientific temper assumes critical importance, more so in an environment like ours where many people in our vast population tend to live simultaneously in different ages and oscillate between various shades of tradition, superstition and of modernity. This creates mental dilemmas because, as the poet Milton put it: ‘The mind is its own place, and in itself ‘Can make a heav’n of hell, a hell of heav’en’ Nehru probably had an inkling of the problem. In response to a question by Andre Malraux about the greatest challenge faced by him, he said “creating a just state by just means; perhaps, too, creating a secular state in a religious country.” The validity of this introspection lives with us to this day in the challenges that emerge to pluralism and secularism. Bertrand Russell, who was a contemporary of Nehru, wrote in 1950 that mankind needs two kinds of things that are closely interwoven: “organisation – political organisation for elimination of wars, economic organisation to enable men to work productively…educational organisation to generate a sane internationalism. On the other hand it needs certain moral qualities…The qualities most needed are charity and tolerance, not some form of fanatical faith such as is offered by the various rampant isms.” I venture to hope that given the exuberance of our young people, some of whom are present in the audience today, we will continue on the right path and attain new heights in the field of research and innovation. Only that can make us a global knowledge powerhouse. I congratulate the Centre and its personnel on this landmark occasion. I wish all of you success in your future endeavours.

About Sanjay Trivedi

Sanjay Trivedi is honorary editor of Asia Times. He is senior Indian Journalist having vast experience of 25 years. He worked in Janmabhoomi, Vyapar, Divya Bhaskar etc. newspapers and TV9 Channel as well as www.news4education.com. He also served as Media Officer in Gujarat Technological University.

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