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Science Education and Research in India

Many aspects of the Indian scientific development are extremely unsatisfactory, lacking in both quality and quantity. Although the outreach of teaching and research programmes has increased considerably, populist political themes are favoured and special institutions have been created where research is undertaken independent of the university system. This article reviews the present scene in science education, and identifies the major problems and the challenges confronting the institutions involved in education and research. It suggests that the government should restrict itself to broad policy issues rather than be involved in day-to-day affairs and the university should be re-established as the primary agency for education and research.

PERSPECTIVEEconomic & Political Weekly EPW june 14, 200837Science Education and Research in IndiaGautam R DesirajuGautam R Desiraju (gautam_desiraju @yahoo.com) is at the School of Chemistry, University of Hyderabad, Hyderabad.Many aspects of the Indian scientific development are extremely unsatisfactory, lacking in both quality and quantity. Although the outreach of teaching and research programmes has increased considerably, populist political themes are favoured and special institutions have been created where research is undertaken independent of the university system. This article reviews the present scene in science education, and identifies the major problems and the challenges confronting the institutions involved in education and research. It suggests that the government should restrict itself to broad policy issues rather than be involved in day-to-day affairs and the university should be re-established as the primary agency for education and research.The era of procrastination, of half-measures, of soothing and baffling expedients, of delays, is coming to a close. In its place, we are entering a period of consequences.–W S Churchill, during the locust years of the rise of Nazi GermanyScientific progress is the hallmark of a dynamic society. The scientific temper is probably the best answer to ignorance, superstition and hypocrisy. It encourages a logical, quantitative and systematic approach to life, rapidly empowering and enriching those who embrace it in their lives. Our newly inde-pendent country took many moves to increase and improve scientific activity. The feeling today however, is that many aspects of our scientific development have been unsatisfactory. When compared with what other countries, notably China, have achieved within a similar time period, the Indian contribution is singularly lacking in both quality and quantity. This article attempts to provide a survey of the present scene in science education and research and to suggest possible solutions. It is the perspective of a person who has been involved with science in India for almost 30 years as a teacher and researcher in the University of Hyderabad, and who has also had extensive interactions with the international scientific community at many levels.At the outset, it is important to specify the kind of science one is speaking about. There is science as a scholarly activity, industrially-oriented science, science in society, science for the student, and science for strategic purposes. The aims and goals of these varied kinds of science are indeed distinct, as are the methods employed to achieve success in any of them. Developing rocket technology is not the same as publishing high impact scien-tific papers, which in turn is different from discovering a new drug or solving the drinking water problem in our villages and towns. However, there is a common theme that links all these activities, and that is the importance of having a criti-cally large and competent scientific work- force. In turn this means that one needs to impart a modern and sensible science edu-cation across a wide cross-section of youth in order that they might reasonably develop themselves as scientists or scien-tifically inclined people of the next gener-ation. Any attempt to divorce science edu-cation from the rest of science is therefore doomed to failure, as we have now real-ised to our very great cost.1 General BackgroundIn the past, scientific research in India was a low key affair but it was competently done, given its flimsy infrastructural sup-port and absence of equipment. A dedi-cated teacher and a few motivated stu-dents could create a happy academic envi-ronment. Quality was the goal, and though elusive there was never any doubt about identifying it when it surfaced. Today, however, vast numbers of students aspire for educational opportunities at higher levels. In the name of democratisa-tion, we have been told by our political masters to increase the outreach of our teaching and research programmes. Can we cope with this projected increase? Our system which evolved in gentler times is incapable of handling populist political themes that promise to deliver education at all levels to the masses. Actually, it is impossible and also unnecessary to make every student a high profile researcher. Research is elitist, exclusive, discriminatory, and at the high-est levels of outstanding quality. Excel-lence in research is like high altitude climbing or marathon running. It is not meant for all. At more modest levels, a few more can participate, but that is the bot-tom line. Still, there is nothing wrong in moving from the slow paced quality based system which we had 25 years ago, to a more accelerated quantity based system, provided the ultimate goal is the identifi-cation and encouragement of true quality. Quantity does not mean loss of quality. Quantity is also no substitute for quality.
PERSPECTIVEjune 14, 2008 EPW Economic & Political Weekly38How does quality research fit into a quantity-based system where everyone wants to study? For this, education must evolve in two stages: in the first stage a very large number of students must be given a sound undergraduate training in science, includ-ing laboratory work. In the second stage, a smaller number of truly gifted individuals must be identified and given a worldclass education. Simultaneously, those who terminate their education at the under-graduate level should be provided with decent employment opportunities. Two elements are required for this: (i) the numbers of students handled at the lower levels must be really large; and (ii) the thoroughness with which the system is able to identify and elevate quality must be highly efficient. This is the so-called “needle in the haystack” problem. If large numbers are screened effectively, one would get the golden mean of quantity at the lower levels and quality at the higher levels. Many competent scientists would be able to contribute effectively in certain activities, and a few really outstanding ones in others. Sadly, the present situation is chara-cterised by neither quantity nor quality. No one is really interested in a BSc degree because science as a career is not per-ceived as a serious option by students and their parents. Only the debris remains in the BSc programme. Substandard under-graduates become substandard PhD students. No scientific institution in India, however glamorously it may be touted by the news media, has avoided this problem of deteriorating student quality. There were days when a small number of bright students somehow drifted into the so-called prestigious places, and there was this fig leaf of respectability. Today, the rot has spread all the way to the top. Students do not want to enter a scientific career because they do not see attractive eco-nomic prospects at the end of their stud-ies. One may argue with this attitude, but it is unavoidable in our money-driven society today. 2 Identifying the ProblemsWe identify here three major problems that need to be addressed to promote excellence in research in science.(i) Research and Teaching: In every country that has a significant scientific presence, fundamental research takes place in universities that handle under-graduate teaching. For historical reasons, however, Indian universities were organ-ised as examination-oriented bodies with affiliated colleges; the British authorities were careful to ensure that significant research did not take place in them. The newly formed governmentofindepend-ent India was well aware of the problems within our universities, their inflexible bureaucracies and entrenched interests, and rather than try to reform them straightaway (which would have been the only lasting solution), they attempted to sidestep the issue by creating institutes where research could be undertaken independent of the university system. This was the beginning of organisations such as the Council of Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR), Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) and Indian Council of Agricultural Research (ICAR). In my view, this was the single biggest blunder that was committed in the Indian scientific arena. Today we continue to pamper these unproductive behemoths which have usurped the functions of the universities, and have been unable to generate any kind of quality in their own research, apart from failing in their basic mandate of acting as a liaison between the aca-demic and industrial/societal worlds. Recently, we have also created smaller and more exclusive institutes, the so-called “islands of excellence” from where it is fondly hoped that future Nobel prizes will emanate, but this is just adding insult to injury. The National Knowledge Com-mission (NKC) (2006) has strenuously spo-ken out against the creation of these elite institutes which ill behove a country of one billion with the weird combination of an 8 per cent annual growth rate and one of the largest proportions of illiterates in the world. Creating these institutes is like curing an inoperable cancer with band-aids. There are no two ways about it. The best researcher may not make the best teacher, and vice versa, but research and teaching always go together. They are two sides of the same coin. Teaching without research is like a pond of stagnant water. It becomes stale and contaminated. Research without teaching is like a mirage. We imagine that there is water in the pond.(ii) Science and Engineering: Some-where along the line, we Indians became enamoured with engineering and other professional courses. Possibly this had to do with the fact that an engineering degree was associated with immediate employment, which is always an impor-tant factor in a poor country. Perhaps it had to do with the Indian Institutes of Technology (IITs) and their so-called “world class” image, more probably the ease with which anIIT graduate was able to emigrate to a foreign country. A very large number of engineering colleges were started to accommodate the terrifying demand for this course but, for the large part, these colleges were of substandard quality and their graduates were ill-equipped to handle a professional career in engineering. Simultaneously, employ-ers started insisting on an engineering qualification as a basic prerequisite for any kind of moderately paying job, and this truly sounded the death knell of the BSc colleges. Our society’s infatuation with the engi-neering course is the second big misfor-tune that has befallen our scientific enter-prise. I have come across a large number of youngsters who had absolutely no apti-tude for engineering: some of them would have made fine economists, journalists, authors or even artists. Yet, because of tyrannical parental and societal pressure they undertook studies in engineering and this was the beginning of a long, costly and in many cases disastrous journey into the darkness. This is a crisis of confidence. The government must convince the gen-eral public that a sound BA or BSc course in which the student is taught with honesty and dedication will necessarily result in immediate and gainful employment. Not everyone should want to become a space scientist or, more ludicrously, a data puncher in the United States. Most should be happy to work in India as, say, a bench chemist in a factory, a teacher in a small college or a cameraman in a TV station. A sound undergraduate degree is all one needs for this. It is both necessary and
PERSPECTIVEEconomic & Political Weekly EPW june 14, 200839sufficient for this level of work, and no dignity is lost. (iii) Curiosity and Courage:C V Raman said that there is nothing intrinsically inferior with the quality of the Indian mind when compared to that of a Teuton or an Anglo-Saxon. Rather, he added that what inhibits us is the lack of a certain courage that would allow us to explore unusual avenues. To this I will add that the average Indian lacks a constructive curiosity and interest in goings-on around him or her. The Indian is far too self-absorbed and believes that there is no need to know about many things because it does not help him or her to address an immediate, personal concern. Courage and curiosity are, however, the two essen-tial attributes of a good scientist and their singular lack in the Indian psyche have contributed in no small measure to the deterioration of our science. This is the third of the big problems we face. It is remarked often that an Indian makes a good student or postdoctoral fellow but a poor scientist when (s)he attempts to do independent research. The Indian is too scared to question authority of any form. He would rather swim along with the cur-rent. He does not dare to differ. All this runs counter to the scientific disposition, which proceeds systematically along the route of questioning, formulation, experimentation and verification. How do you formulate a hypothesis if you are scared to do so? I believe that neither curiosity nor cour-age is a genetic trait – these qualities are inculcated in the early years, by broad-minded parents and compassionate teachers. Our society places too much pre-mium on conforming. All rewards will be yours if you toe the line, they say. Do your own thing and you will be punished. Do not take up humanities or social sciences, we are told. Qualify for the IIT or perish. Join an Indian Institute of Management (IIM) because otherwise you have failed in life. Do a PhD and then go to the US for a postdoctoral fellowship. Earn dollars and be happy. What chance is there for any genuine scholarship and enquiry; in fact what chance is there for anything positive in such a straitjacketed environment? We are creating zombies and not productive members of society. We need a cleansing of the Augean stables within our minds, but there are no short cuts. Charity begins at home, in this case in elementary school. Unless each little child who enters school is respected as a distinct human being with his or her own preferences, choices and rights, there is not much hope of ena-bling a courageous new generation.3 OurInstitutionsThis section deals with the challenges confronting our universities.Indian Institutes of Technology: It is indeed ironical that the premier institutes that were started with so much sincerity of purpose have deviated so far from their original aims. Nehru had a definite objec-tive for the IITs. He envisaged them as a cornerstone in our industrial and techno-logical edifice. What do we have in prac-tice? For the first 20 years (1960-1980), the best of the IIT output emigrated, mostly to the US, literally draining the intellectual capital of the fledgling country. The next 20 years saw a hiatus during which the quality of the teaching programme declined and research in engineering dwindled to nothingness. Curiously, it was during this time (1980-2000) that admis-sion to the IITs became a frenzied business and when the notorious cram schools of Andhra Pradesh, Kota (Rajasthan) and elsewhere became vast empires, pretend-ing academic eminence. Candidates with-out aptitude were thus able to qualify for admission and a dull sort of mediocrity set in. The IIT graduates are not rushing off to the US today, not because they have suddenly become patriotic but rather because they are not being offered student assistantships and lucrative jobs in theUS anymore.Perhaps these IIT graduates are not as good as they used to be. Things are aided and abetted by companies that refuse to hire anyone except IIT graduates, howso-ever mediocre they may be. I feel that the IITs are highly overrated today and that their so-called “world class” status is largely a creation of the Indian media. In part, their problems arise from the fact that their admissions are made exclusively on the basis of an entrance examination (IIT-Joint Entrance Examination), and education there is subsidised heavily for all admitted students. In contrast, the really top universities of the world (Harvard, Cambridge, Berkeley) have a dual system of admissions. The window of scholastic ability to secure admission into these institutions is a little wider than in theIITs. Really outstanding students are awarded full scholarships while others, who are very good but not the very best pay rather heavy fees. This provides a healthy balance, and prevents an undue domination by products of cram schools, who can crack examinations but are good for little else. The contribution of the IITs to the research activity of India has been negligi-ble, at least in the engineering disciplines. Indirectly, they have had a very negative effect on science because the best students of the country joined the IITs as engineer-ing students rather than opt for a scientific career (whether or not they had any real aptitude for engineering). Unfortunately the IITs cannot be wound up, but they need to be regarded with a great deal of realism and should be made accountable for the amount of largesse they receive. Council of Scientific and Industrial Research: Once again, we have an organ-isation that was set up with the most laud-able of objectives, namely, to act as a bridge between the academic and indus-trial worlds. However, the CSIR laborato-ries began to encroach upon activities which are traditionally in the purview of the universities – guiding students for a PhD degree, publishing scholarly papers, conducting qualifying examinations for PhD admissions, and giving out prizes and awards. However, they are not degree-granting institutions and so they needed the “assistance” of nearby universities. So, and as examples, Delhi University, Poona University and Osmania University gradu-ally became post offices that handled the official correspondence connected with the work of PhD students, nominally registered with them, but actually work-ing full-time in the National Physical Laboratory (NPL), National Chemical Laboratory (NCL) or Indian Institute of Commerce and Trade (IICT). Today, theCSIR system is a parody of what it was supposed to be. It has lost sight
PERSPECTIVEEconomic & Political Weekly EPW june 14, 200841that “the number of places for students at universities is simply inadequate”. Enough has been said elsewhere about the sorry state of our state universities and I am not going to repeat that. Even the few univer-sities that were doing respectable research 20 years ago (as examples only I will men-tion the universities of Pune, Jadavpur, Panjab and Madurai Kamraj University) have become pale shadows of their former selves. The central government must step in directly into the reorganisation of the entire state university system. We will have to address the problems that our founding fathers avoided in 1947 and reform our state universities.This problem will not go away just because we refuse to acknowledge its existence. For a start, political interfer-ence in the appointments of vice chancel-lors must stop, and corruption in the administration, especially where it con-cerns faculty appointments, purchase pro-cedures and contracts, must be dealt with harshly. There is a Russian proverb which states that even if a ditch is very wide it can only be crossed in a single leap. Never were truer words spoken.I will still persist with the notion that the state university system must be restored to good health for the following reasons: (i) There is no way in which we can even begin to approach the NKC tar-geted number of 1,500 universities by 2015 without including the 325 or so state uni-versities; (ii) In the university system the students can study all subjects. There is a very real need that students of science should have a basic grounding in the humanities and social sciences. This is not possible in theIISERs or in the research institutes. In particular, the need for a working knowledge of English is now deemed to be absolutely essential for any-one who is aspiring for a scientific career; (iii) The state universities have a very pre-cious asset that is not available to the newer institutions, namely, the prime land they are located upon, and their very sol-idly constructed premises. The NKC (2006) suggests that they create resources by sell-ing a part of this land. I will not be so cyni-cal. Having worked all my professional life in a university which is located very far from the centre of a big city, I have real-ised that students, faculty and all those connected with a university like to live close to habitation. This is a basic human need. We have too many new universities with substandard ad hoc buildings in far flung campuses. Once again, this perpetu-ates the “we” versus “them” divide and delinks academia from the society it is supposed to serve; (iv) The idea that the problems of an old university can be solved by creating a new university is basically unsound. There are universities like Cracow, Bologna and Oxford that are 1,000 years old. The Ivy League universi-ties in theUS are close to 300 years old. This is the norm in the rest of the world. In no other country do we have so many floundering universities, most of which are less than 50 years old. This reveals a basic defect in the way in which we are approaching higher education in this country. There is much to commend the adage “physician, heal thyself”. We need to sit back and introspect, and that too rather deeply.4 Administration and BureaucracyFor reasons of brevity, I will not go into detail but there is a widespread agreement that our administrative and bureaucratic set-up is suffocating in the extreme. The NKC (2006) speaks repeatedly about changing the entire administrative appa-ratus within universities. It asks for an Independent Regulatory Authority for Higher Education (IRAHE) which will effectively take over some of the functions of the University Grants Commission (UGC). However, given the Indian mind-set, theIRAHE, even if it comes into exist-ence, will become a clone of the UGC and academics will have to approach two refractory bodies instead of just one. If we increase the number of universi-ties to anything close to the NKC target of 1,500, it is clear to me that we will have to move away from a centralised system we now have to a decentralised system. Each university should become self-governing, autonomous and with the authority to seek its own funding. Appointments of vice chancellors should be internally driven by the faculty (even if the person appointed is from outside the university). There is no necessity for the president of India or for the governor of a state to tick a name on a list so that a vice chancellor of a university may be appointed. There is little need for committees of wise men from outside the university to decide the important issues of the organisation. Particularly galling is the domination of the executive councils by external mem-bers, who are often hand-picked favour-ites of the vice chancellor; this is an anachronism that has no place in a demo-cratic set-up. The ultimate executive authority ofa university should rest exclusively within its faculty members. Self-help is the best help.The science bureaucrat is an unusual creature who has propagated largely within this country. This species is largely unknown outside India. This entity comes in two sorts. The first is a PhD who is employed by a scientific department in his early years and works his way up the bureaucratic ladder. The second is a working scientist, who moves into administration while maintaining that he continues to be actively involved in science. Both varieties of this strange species have done incalculable damage to our scientific fabric. Let us consider each of them in turn. Incalculable DamageThere is little that distinguishes the first sort of administrator from a government babu in a non-scientific department. He exists only to justify the existence of the department. He might be needed to imple-ment government programmes that deal with societal and strategic scientific needs but he is not required in the implementa-tion of educational and research pro-grammes. Scientists and teachers can do this quite effectively with minimal sup-port from administrative assistants. The NKC has recommended a National Science and Social Science Foundation (NSSSF) which is supposed to take over some of the functions of DST andDBT. It appears that theUS-based National Science Foundation is the model for NSSSF. However, India is not the US and I fear that the NSSSF will become a clone of the DST or DBT in the same way that the proposedIRAHE might become a clone of the UGC. The answer, I feel, is not in more centralised bodies but in greater decentralisation. Apex bodies have never worked effectively in India.
PERSPECTIVEjune 14, 2008 EPW Economic & Political Weekly42Small is indeed beautiful, as Gandhiji never tired of saying, and we should adopt some of his convictions in the administra-tion of our academic institutions.The second sort of science bureaucrat is a scientist who has performed at a better than average level (when compared to his peers within the country), has been richly decorated with all the awards and recog-nitions that the scientific establishment of India can offer and moves as the top administrator of a university, CSIR labora-tory or institute while in the age group of 45-55 or so. The value system that per-vades the country today is one which places a high premium on administrative authority, but I am still surprised that so many otherwise competent scientists crave for these administrative positions so unabashedly. In no scientifically advanced country do top scientists prefer to take up administrative positions. In fact the converse is true, and such a move is usu-ally greeted with amusement, or some-times even derision, by the person’s scientific peers. It is a measure of our immaturity as a society that we believe an administrative position to be the acme of one’s profes-sional life. The problem does not end here. After achieving such a position, the leader insists that his or her scientific capabilities have not been impaired; in fact he/she often claims that he/she is doing better science after becoming an administrator. In actuality, the person in question does neither science nor administration very effectively and the organisation falls into decline and disrepute. Decentralised administration would provide a dampener to these sorts of activities, and while the administrator would be given his proper due, no one would mis-identify him as a great scientist, which is what is hap-pening today.Non-Governmental InvolvementIn the end, we will not be able to dismiss the role of non-governmental agencies in the education and research sectors. There is no way in which we can achieve the NKC target of 1,500 universities by 2015 unless there is an across-the-board involvement of government, the private sector, individ-ual benefactors and foreign organisations. We should learn to be more open minded about non-government involvement in education. The government descended from the commanding heights of the eco-nomic sectors after 1991. It is time that it began a similar retreat from the com-manding heights of the educational sector. Already, there is disturbing evidence of what happens when one fails to read the writing on the wall. The sharp increase in coaching classes, non-accredited universi-ties and colleges, in fact all kinds of ad hoc and dubious arrangements that hawk and peddle education are very common now and indeed quite popular. The country is losing an enormous amount of foreign exchange in terms of fees paid by Indian students who are studying abroad. It is bet-ter if we think about the entry of foreign universities into India today and properly regulate such activity rather than wait for a time when their entry becomes unavoid-able and under terms and conditions that are disadvantageous to the country.The greatest damage that the adminis-trative and bureaucratic set-up has inflicted is that it has degraded scientists to the point where they are unable to recognise quality anymore. Any repressive administration forces individuals to com-promise. We Indian scientists have made so many compromises that we are now unable to even recognise that we are mired in a vast bog of mediocrity. After 80 years of puffing ourselves up, India is today unable to qualify to play hockey in the Olympics. But the rot had set in 20 years ago, with the administrators of the game mostly to blame, and we were in a state of denial – unable to recognise it, or too scared to recognise it, or too corrupt to want to recognise it. In the end, the exact reason does not matter. Academics kept silent in front of administrators for too long in a country that has stubbornly refused to identify and encourage quality. Disaster was inevitable and it is now a reality. In all successful countries, quality is a prized attribute. Because of this almost wilful neglect of quality India is paying a bitter price today in the field of education and research. 5 Looking OutwardsLike the Olympics, scientific research operates with an international currency. In such a regime it is difficult to hide warts and blemishes and most scientists in India will freely admit that the standard of our research has miles to go before it attains top international levels. The comparison with China is especially painful. In 1980 China produced far less scientific publica-tions than India. Today it has outstripped India in both quality and quantity.1 How-ever embarrassing it may be, we need to constantly calibrate ourselves against the standards set elsewhere. Publishing top class scientific papers is very different from launching rockets and missiles or exploding atomic devices. The Indian media have misled the general public in clubbing together all kinds of different sci-entific activities. In the end, missile tech-nology is not high class cutting-edge sci-ence; rather it has to do with a proper and efficient implementation of technologies that were developed 20 or even 30 years ago in foreign countries. The launching of yet another missile, while laudable from a developmental and societal viewpoint, is no proof that we are doing state-of-the-art science. We need to look carefully at the Chinese experience. They decided fairly early that high levels of student participation at the undergraduate level are essential. In turn, such high levels of undergraduate enrol-ment demand high budgets. China has Open Review Several international journals are moving away from closed "Peer Review" of research papers, towards an "Open Review" process. In open reviews anyone can comment on a paper submitted for publication. This will increase trans-parency in reviews as well as enhance participation and involvement of the research community. EPW occasionally posts a submission on its web site and invites comments. Visitors to the EPW web site and readers of the journal are encouraged to offer detailed comments. 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PERSPECTIVEEconomic & Political Weekly EPW june 14, 200843opted for this route and has set up 100 uni-versities each with a budget of around Rs 100 crore per year, and each handling 10,000 students [Desiraju 2008]. This would amount to an outlay of Rs 10,000 crore per year but nearly 3,00,000 stu-dents would graduate every year, and this is no small number. I do not believe that a sum of Rs 10,000 crore per year for under-graduate science education is large given today’s realities (the DAE gets roughly Rs 7,000 crore every year) but there is a total lack of political will to take such a decision and what has been done so far, say the IISER exercise, is too little too late. Training a large number of science under-graduates is scientifically pragmatic, politically inclusive and strategically timely. I do not see that we even have an alternative.We need also to think in terms of greater involvement of the Indian scientific diaspora, who are very often quite anxious to contribute in whatever way they can to improve the science education and research programmes within India. Also desirable would be moves to permit for-eigners to take up employment in our universities [Desiraju 2008]. Disparate countries like theUS, Switzerland and Tai-wan have benefited greatly by throwing open the doors of their academic estab-lishment to foreigners. The NKC goal of 1,500 universities by 2015 is no small matter. Where are the teachers who will staff all these universities? Clearly they are not all available in India. Shunning foreigners from our academic institutions is a xenophobic reaction that does not suit a country that is attempting to enter the global arena in so many other areas – tak-ing over large international companies, organising highly lucrative cricket leagues, having the most profitable movie industry in the world and so on. It is projected that India will be the third largest economy in the world by 2050. The academic sector should learn to think big, if only to keep up with the rest of the country.6 Looking InwardsI finally take up the matter of caste reser-vations in academic institutions. This has been such a volatile topic, politically speaking, that very few have dared to address it directly. However, it is also true that no discussion on education in India will be complete unless a disinterested debate on this matter is initiated. TheNKC has made a welcome departure from the previous silences of the academic commu-nity on this topic [NKC 2006]. It states very correctly that “reservations are essential, but they are only a part, and one form, of affirmative action”. It goes on to add that “disparities in educational attainments are related to caste and social groups, but they are also strongly related to other indi-cators such as income, gender, region, and place of residence”. I will go further. The main reason that caste reservations have become so controversial is because there is now a firm feeling among groups who are not covered by these reservations that they are being deprived of educational opportunities because of these very reser-vations. In the end, no one is particularly happy. The truly underprivileged still have a long way to go and have not fully enjoyed the benefits of reservation while the so-called advantaged classes now feel totally excluded and even discriminated against. A backlash reaction from them would lead to civil unrest. Ironically even the political netas are a dejected lot with the latest Supreme Court ruling on the creamy layer. Of course, this is a problem that is largely the creation of our netas. All they thought about were vote banks. The solution also lies with them.In my view, the solution is rather sim-ple. The caste argument has become so polarised because there are simply not enough places for aspiring students. It is a scarcity issue. If massive amounts of money are infused into undergraduate education, so that basically anyone who wants to study is given a place to study close to his or her home, much of the heartburn would go away. Problems that can be solved with money are often the easiest problems to solve, and with the ris-ing prosperity levels of the country, I am hopeful that the entire issue of reserva-tions will rapidly become a ghost of times past. Most young people in this country do not want to join anIIT. All they want is a decent basic education which leads to a decent employment close to their homes. The government needs to phase itself out of the entire business of higher education and research, in the same way that it came out of the economic sectors and the license-permit-quota raj.7 ConclusionsThe present scenario in the science educa-tion and research sectors is not good, and there seems to be little cause for cheer if all that is attempted is incremental inno-vation. However, and as a scientist, I will say that some of the biggest problems in science have been solved with audacious simplicity. To summarise, the government should involve itself less in the day-to-day running of science and scientific establish-ments. It should restrict itself to broad policy questions with societal, strategic and humanitarian implications. The uni-versity system should be re-established as the primary agency where all the teaching and fundamental research is carried out. Elite institutions are the icing on the cake. It is silly to talk about the icing and revel in it, when there is no cake and even no bread. Very questionable are the pleth-ora of scientific agencies and organisa-tions wherein there is much duplication of effort, wasteful expenditure, little quality output and no accountability. Education is the continuous thread that runs through the fabric of all kinds of creative scientific activity. It is a right at the basic level and a privilege at the higher level. No one, stu-dent, administrator, or teacher should be made to forget this.Note1 “The bottom line in this comparison is unmistak-able. In 1980, India was light years ahead of China in volume and breadth of published research. For two decades, India’s research output production stagnated. During that period, China’s research production increased exponentially. Presently, China outperforms India substantially both in quality and quantity (as measured by the impact factor of research output). The gap is widening and shows no sign of abating, if present Indian research policies are continued!” R N Kostoff et al, Technological Forecasting and Social Change, 74, 2007, p 1609.ReferencesDesiraju, G R (2008): Current Science (India), 94, 839. Available at http://www.ias.ac.in/currsci/apr102008/839.pdf – (2007): The Hindu, April 19. Available at http://www.hindu.com/2007/02/19/stories/2007021902651000.htmKrishna Kumar, T (2008): ‘Social Science Education and Research’, Economic & Political Weekly, April 5, pp 68-71.National Knowledge Commission (2006): Report to the Nation 2006, GoI, New Delhi, at http://know-ledgecommission.gov.in/reports/report06.asp

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