New Delhi, Aug. 2: A Prime Minister who believed in socialism started the first wave of institution building in education. Now, another Prime Minister who cast away socialism is talking about a “second wave”.
Between the two lies a large void ' or that is what Manmohan Singh was trying to say today.
He said the country needs a “second wave” to emerge as a knowledge powerhouse.
“Our universities and centres of excellence are behind the best in the world in terms of human capital and physical infrastructure'” he said at the launch of the newly set-up Knowledge Commission.
“The time has come for a second wave of institution building.”
With Sam Pitroda as chairman, the eight-member panel announced in June this year has the task of pencilling strategies to promote excellence in education, knowledge creation and intellectual property generation.
“India cannot afford to lag behind the rest of the world,” Singh said, while asking the commission to deliver “bold proposals” to help India achieve excellence in research and teaching of science, technology and mathematics.
Senior policymakers and scientists welcomed the Prime Minister’s call for institution building, saying a fresh movement would complement what the ‘first wave’, guided by Jawaharlal Nehru, had achieved after independence.
“A second wave is a must,” said Narayanaswamy Balakrishnan, chairman, division of information sciences at the Indian Institute of Science, Bangalore. “The first wave pushed India into the industrial era, the second one will take us into the knowledge era.”
While academic circles have complained that India’s universities have been starved of funds, experts point out that infusing massive amounts of funding into existing educational or research institutions may not always yield expected results.
“You can’t pump hormones into a person and hope to get a Sachin Tendulkar,” said Raghunath Mashelkar, director-general of the Council of Scientific and Industrial Research. “New institutions that bring with them flexibility, freedom, a culture of doing things differently are needed.”
Some older institutions are already changing their practice of teaching science.
The Indian Institute of Science, Bangalore, for instance, has set up a cell for intellectual property to examine how science projects at the institute could be turned into products.
“A decade ago, the industry was not on our radar,” said Balakrishnan. “Students used to move to other universities or step into government laboratories. Now, a large number of students end up in private industries, and we have collaborations with companies.”
“We need institutions with flexibility that would allow engineers to pursue careers in biological sciences,” said Mashelkar.
India has more than 250 universities and educational institutions that churn out 350,000 engineers and 5,000 PhD scholars each year. With such a pool, the Prime Minister said, India should have the ambition to become a large base for research and development activity.
Singh said India should put in place the legal and physical infrastructure that can attract more foreign investment in research and development activity and help the country emerge as a “knowledge engine” of the world.
Singh said there is a need to improve access and excellence at all levels ' from primary schools to higher education to national research centres of excellence, and acknowledged that there would be “fiscal and administrative challenges to be tackled”.
The commission is expected to identify its plan of action by October 2005. Biologist P.M. Bhargava is its vice-chairman. The other members are Nandan Nilekani, Deepak Nayyar, Ashok Ganguly, Andre Beteille, Jayati Ghosh and Pratap Bhanu Mehta.