On a recent visit to Indian Institute of Science Education and Research (IISER), the Human Resource Development Minister, Smriti Irani, had stated that “bigger money does not mean better science.” However this is up for debate. And here is why.
Before we start talking science let us talk numbers. Reportedly, almost 59% of secondary schools in India do not have the provision of a science laboratory although science is compulsory for all till tenth grade. The scenario is not much better for students electing for science in their +2 level since only 32% of schools have separate room for laboratories and most do not possess the basic apparatus. As for access to the global science community, only 37% of schools have functioning computers with a net connection.
While on the topic of science education in the country, the “IIT conundrum”, the umbrella term for an Indian science student’s burden, cannot be glazed over. Known throughout the length and breadth of the Indian student body, the induced competition of this phenomenon very much succeeds in bringing forth the best of scientific minds. However it cannot be denied that considerable talent is screened out simply due to lack of means to accommodate the numbers. So much so that the numbered seats of these institutes are as much symbolic of worthy students who missed out as representative of deserving students who got in.
And this issue actually runs a lot deeper. Some of the best and the brightest of all those who are able to navigate the deep waters of graduation in a scientific field tend to opt for foreign universities both for research and higher studies. A major reason for this is that there is a dearth of research facilities in India. The existing few are ill equipped and geographically diffused thus guaranteeing the isolation of aspiring scientists from their like-minded peers. Another reason is that the country has failed to project the research field as a lucrative career option. India has just 4 scientific researchers for every 10,000 people in the workforce; a number that is not only lower than advanced countries like the US and the UK but one which does not compete with even China and Brazil.
After this if renowned scientist and Bharat Ratna awardee CNR Rao described the present educational and scientific scenario as “depressing”, after taking note of all the above mentioned statistics one can only agree.
What we need to do to counter this bleak scheme of things is to push for a general increase in the number of premier establishments so that a larger number of students can pursue their scientific interests in an updated infrastructure with world class facilities.
Understandably, it is unreasonable to expect the same percentage of monetary input as more developed countries like the US but India has failed to put in a proportion that should be a mere precondition to a country with an ever increasing population. India is spending less than 1% on research and development compared to 1.9% in China and 2.75% in US. In terms of scientific papers published, Indians numbered about 90,000 in 2013 compared to 4,50,000 by Americans and 3,25,000 by Chinese. As defended by the Human Resource Development Minister, these findings may not take into account the papers published in regional languages. But this only proves that the government is not unable to increase the budget but is unwilling to because it finds the current research to be sufficient.
India aimed to put in 2% of its GDP towards scientific research according to the government’s science policy of 2003 but it has been unable to do so. The government has not failed the people’s expectations but its own promises.
Another miscalculation on the government’s part has been quite recent. Because unless the much propagated Make in India endeavors to stand on shoulders not of its own making, investing in innovation is as much a need of the hour as expending on manufacture. Increasing financial aid will not only ensure a strong foothold in the international arena but it will also benefit the national population with the development of technology that does not only cater to global consumption but is also suited to local circumstances. We need to innovate in India before we make in India.
So yes, it is quite true that science is a curiosity driven subject. But this curiosity needs to brought to fruition through adequate funds. Lately Indian science has become the quintessential good child who loses out on commendation simply because he fulfilled existing expectations. But positive reinforcement is desired by all. In the case of science in India, it is very much mandatory.
Thus, for once, we can say that bigger money does mean better science.