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September 21, 2009

For a Science Culture

Going by a 2008 report by Ernst and Young, there was a shortfall of engineers by 58 per cent and of doctorate scientists by 80 per cent in the country last year. These figures can be assumed for this year too, for it is unlikely that there has been a drastic change in the scenario in just a year, given the rise in population and engineering and scientific/technological demands as well as the stagnancy of the higher education sector in so far as the growth of educational institutions is concerned when viewed in the backdrop of the country’s population boom. The shortfall of engineers by 58 per cent and of doctorate scientists by 80 per cent points to the pace at which higher education in the field of science and technology must now spread if the country aspires a key global power position; great powers have to their credit great educational institutions too, and science is the most defining catalyst of change. Given the reality, Human Resource Development (HRD) Minister Kapil Sibal’s plan to give university status to the Council of Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR)-Advanced Institute of Scientific Training (AIST) is laudatory. Sibal has already held a series of meetings with CSIR, University Grants Commission (UGC) and HRD Ministry officials to resolve the outstanding issues related to grant of university status to CSIR-AIST at the earliest. The AIST, with its headquarters at Noida or Faridabad, is envisaged as an establishment to serve as a network for the 40-odd CSIR laboratories and would pool resources and faculty across these laboratories to create a national-level university with a strong research focus. The CSIR has also proposed that apart from postgraduate courses, the would-be university be allowed to run undergraduate programmes so that the acute shortage of skilled manpower in the science and technology sector could be met. Once the CSIR-AIST is given university status, junior and senior research fellows, numbering about 2,200, working full-time in the CSIR laboratories for PhD degrees will not be required to register themselves at nearby universities as is the case now, because they will be enrolled at the CSIR-AIST university itself. This, needless to say, will have a great synergetic effect on the CSIR culture of research.

Students today are no longer interested in general science studies, and those who are pursuing general science courses are doing so out of sheer compulsion because they have failed to get admitted to engineering and medical colleges which is their only idea of a science career, except for a select lot who are genuinely interested in pure science research. It is imperative that the trend is reversed by way of setting more and more quality universities and research centres that are themselves universities offering world-class research facilities. The need for incentivizing pure science education and research cannot be overemphasized in view of the crippling shortfall of scientists in the country. Let the HRD Ministry talk to the scientific community and devise a mechanism to attract the best brains to pure science education and research as also to help create a culture of science right from the primary school level. THE SENTINEL

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