Besides lack of broad based training in natural sciences, there are other problems that discourage research. We are not training students to have enquiring minds, which is important for developing research temperament. The level of practical student undertake in science subjects at the undergraduate level remains poor. Our science academies are promoting summer project work for our young students. This is a welcome step. However, due to a limited number of scholarships only few students are benefiting. The programme will hopefully expand. Students need to be encouraged to be inquisitive and question existing notions. To some extent, the problem lies with our societal structures. We encourage rote-based knowledge that already exists rather than encouraging search for new knowledge.
The most important consideration should be the integration of science and technology. we have created boundaries between science and technology and between physical sciences and biological sciences. Even in the management of higher education, the All India Technical Council of Education (AICTE) look after technical and professional and university Grants Commission (UGC) looks after science education. We should either merge these entities or allow both to look after science and technology in the institutes associated with these bodies. If we separate science from technology are getting complicated; without integrating technology with science we will not be able to translate research into tangible products and create value.
As an example breeding superior crops for ushering in a second green revolution requires both knowledge of basic and applied biology. Future breeders will require a sound knowledge of molecular biology, genetics, biochemistry, mathematics and statistics, skills in computational work and handling laboratory equipment. Unfortunately, such education is not being imparted nor are there concerted efforts to create interdisciplinary teams to use the knowledge of molecular biology and genomic to produce novel seeds, which would require lesser inputs of water and chemicals and provide higher yield as compared to the present varieties and hybrids.
To take an example from chemistry, those who want to research new drug molecules or pesticides need some knowledge of biological sciences as a large number of chemical are being synthesized and studies for use on biological entities. Research in the field of nano-materials requires a sound knowledge of both chemistry and physics and a feel for technology.
To create a strong science-technology interface at the University of Delhi, we have initiated three M Tech courses-nuclear physics and process development—to train students in areas that require knowledge of both science and technology. Students with undergraduate degree in natural sciences are admitted in these three-year courses. We hope this will set a new trend in the country in developing a strong science-technology interface.
To develop good faculty in sciences the best of PhDs from India, around 200 every year, should be sent abroad from our own national resources to train them in areas where we want to develop strong research and development efforts. Few engineers are currently doing doctoral work in our universities and institutions for teaching of engineering subjects and also for the development of products.
Every year around 200 B-Tech students should be sent abroad for doctoral work. Scholars sent abroad from public resource should return to serve as faculty in our newly-planned universities and institutes. Otherwise the Centre’s laudatory efforts to create world-class university would go waste due to lack of first-rate faculty at the proposed universities.
India student’s interest in science will improve if we initiate major research programmes relevant to India and incorporate the latest knowledge from global research in these programmes as go along. Take the example of agricultural research, I am convinced if students who have a background in the fundamentals of natural sciences will take up problem related to our major crops, India can turn the corner in agriculture productivity. We should learn from China in this aspect. China’s production of food grain is around 440 million tones. In comparison our production is hovering around 210 million tonnes for the last 10 years. In 1947 when we become independent China’s agriculture was in no batter condition than ours. China enhanced production in agriculture as agricultural research and development was given high priority and was organized in a better fashion.
India is the largest milk-producer in the world, but it also has the largest cattle population of the world. India need to increase per animal productivity. Strangely, there is no systematic programme to carry out genetics and genomic based breeding work on the improvement of cattle productivity and health.
There is a need to have big projects in agriculture, energy and materials. Research in agriculture needs to be organized on the lines of the work being done in space science or nuclear science. In the field of health, low cast diagnostics and development of low cost equipment needs to encouraged.
This required both science and technology. Development of drugs based on bio-molecules or through chemical synthesis needs to be promoted. This area also requires good scientific knowledge and a flair for technology development and collaboration with industry.
To sum up, we need broad-based training with emphasis on practical work at the undergraduate level for students of natural sciences; we need to create a strong sciences-technology interface, funding agencies need to be more proactive and focused in funding research and development needs to be encouraged.