In class VIII when students first get to handle test tubes, a career as a scientist could seem attractive. But, by the time they give their school-leaving examinations, reality intervenes and makes them choose ‘safer options'.

“One can make a career in science only if they invest eight to nine years in education. That is why enrolment in B.Sc courses is very poor,” said S. Bhaskaran, Member Secretary, Tamil Nadu State Council for Higher Education.

According to University Grants Commission (UGC) statistics, India produces only 72,000 post-graduates in science every year. Emphasising that students need to be bold enough to explore other opportunities, Mr.Bhaskaran, said: “Of the one lakh students who opt for engineering every year in the State, a small percentage get jobs within six months of graduation.”

He added that even though there are a variety of good scholarships, science courses are unable to attract quality candidates. “Solutions to social or health problems cannot be provided by the IT sector. Research in basic sciences is essential.”

To bridge the gap between employment opportunities and a quality research base, S. P. Thiagarajan, member of the Ministry of Human Resource Development, task force on basic sciences, said that there must be a major push towards interdisciplinary programmes in basic sciences.

“Periodic modernisation and reorientation of the curriculum to suit employment requirements must be taken up. Diversification of avenues and choices will encourage students to take courses according to their aptitude, instead of just going by employment opportunities,” he said. According to Prof. Thiagarajan, emerging fields that act as a link between technology and science such as bioinstrumentation, allied health sciences and medical imaging techniques offer a lot of scope.

He added that a variety of measures such as parallel programmes which allow science graduates to get an employment-related diploma, summer research grants and an overall improvement in quality of basic sciences departments are essential to “preserve people in teaching and research fields”.

Asserting that attention to science education must start at the high school level, Mythili Premkumar, a science teacher with many years of experience, said, “The chalk-and-talk method must make way for innovative teaching practices. Science examinations are also like routine evaluation. There must be a test of aptitude and not textbook knowledge.”