Active and effective research should be made mandatory, like it is in the West. This will also encourage our young minds to take up research, writes SUMIT BHATTACHARJEE

The development of a country hinges on how active is its research and development sector.

This has been reiterated many a time, and it was again pointed out by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh in his inaugural address at the 99th Annual Session of the Indian Science Congress held in January this year.

But as usual, the budget allocation fell short of the expectations raised by him. Right now the allocation hovers around just one per cent of GDP, whereas the allocation to this area by South Korea was 3 per cent about two decades ago.

Allocation and its effective use is just one side of the story.

To put across the thought in simple words: “The economy and its growth are directly linked to R&D” and this needs some foresight.

“The first thing that Adolf Hitler did before launching the offensives during the World War II was to build wide and strong highways. The objective was ‘connectivity’ and fast movement of his forces. This model was replicated by the US after the war. Now this is called foresight and that is the reason why countries such as US, Germany and even for that matter Israel are at least 20 years ahead of us,” says the principal of Andhra University College of Engineering (AUCE) Prof. G.S.N. Raju.

The professor says that a lot depends on the overall management of the country. “Apart from allocation of funds systematic and effective use of the funds is essential.

This part of activity is very well streamlined in countries such as US and Japan,” he points out.

Consultancy

The safest and effective way of improving R&D sector is to link it up with consultancy.

The principal of AUCE points out that research and consultancy should go hand-in-hand at the institution level.

“The government should do its part, but it cannot be entirely dumped on the government for all shortcomings. Institution-level research is the backbone of R&D in any country, and this aspect should be equally supported by the industry,” he says.

While research at the institution level is mandatory in countries such as the US, UK and Germany, in India it is in the minimal phase. Prof. Raju adds, “The promotion and increments for professors in those countries are directly linked to research that he or she undertakes. The industry-academia interface is very high. In our country this aspect is just formally addressed. The R&D spending for top three companies such as IBM, HP and Motorola is almost equal to our total spending.”

Professor Bharatha Lakshmi, former Head of the Zoology Department of Andhra University points out that the research ambience at the university level has diluted.

“A couple of decades ago life sciences attracted the best brains, today only average and below average students join life and pure sciences stream. Earlier, the penchant for research was very strong. Students were passionate about research, but they did not have the required funds and infrastructure. Today, we have some amount of funds and infrastructure, thought not to the desired level, but the passion and the commitment are missing,” she says.

Moreover, there is a huge drop in the quality of research.

The principal of Anil Neerukonda Institute of Technology and Sciences Prof. V.S.R.K. Prasad points out that the best brains are either drained out of the country or are taking up jobs, and that has affected the research quality. “Plagiarism and repeat of clichéd ideas are on the rise,” he asserts.

Prof. Lakshmi blames the teachers for this dwindling effect.

She adds, “During our times, the teachers were the motivators. To better the current ambience, active and effective research should be made mandatory, like it is in the West. This will also encourage our young minds to take up research.”

Spoilsport

While some professors argue that the trend for campus jobs is playing the spoilsport, as good brains are being attracted towards jobs at an early age and higher study has taken a backseat, others feel that students who are obsessive about higher studies and research still opt for it.

“A comparative study will indicate that it was only a small percentage that took up higher studies and research then, and it continues to be so at present also. It is the question of just being a little patient. Instead of taking up a job on completion of graduation, one can acquire a better job after higher studies.

This has to be understood. The openings, the profile of jobs and pay packets are much higher for students who opt for higher studies and research,” says Prof. G.S.N. Raju.