Prime Minister Manmohan Singh said here on Sunday that the government was working to revolutionise the higher education system and make the country one of the premier centres of education in the world.

Inaugurating the Scholarship Fund of the State Higher Education Council, the Prime Minister said the universities, however, could not become world class centres of learning unless the country changed the way in which they were managed.

“They should create an atmosphere where intellectual inquiry, originality and ingenuity are encouraged rather than academic rot. They have to be given the maximum academic freedom and flexibility. They should be able to recruit the best teachers including the many Indians in top universities abroad.”

Recalling that India was once a premier education centre, Dr. Singh said that the one of the government’s initiatives would be to establish the ‘Nalanda University’ that will revive India’s ancient academic and intellectual links with East Asia.

He also noted that the new Central University in Kerala could also be similarly developed as a university of renown that serves as an intellectual bridge with the countries of the Middle East.

Commending that the Scholarship Fund were to be granted for study and research in basic disciplines, the Prime Minister said that the government was concerned about the declining interest among students in basic sciences. “This is a disturbing trend and we have tried to reverse it through innovative schemes such as INSPIRE, which stands for Innovation in Science Pursuit for Inspired Research.”

INSPIRE was unprecedented in its scale and would provide scholarships of Rs. 5000 to one million young learners in the age group of ten to fifteen years who show talent for science. The scheme provided funding for the entire education chain right up to the research level. “I hope that these initiatives will be complemented by similar efforts of the States such as the Fund that is being inaugurated today.”

The Fund, he said, could be path-breaking initiative in public-private participation. The initiative was intended to ensure that no student in the State was denied the opportunity for higher education for want of financial support.

Earlier, launching the scheme, Dr. Singh distributed scholarships from the Fund to six students.

Chief Minister V. S. Achuthanandan, who welcomed the Prime Minister, announced that the State government would be contributing Rs. 12 crore more to the Fund in addition to the initial contribution of Rs. 3 crore. Besides, the government would be providing 50 per cent of the funds contributed by the public to the Fund as matching grant. All sections of the population had come forward to contribute to the Fund. (The target is Rs. 100 crore in public contributions.)

Kerala Education Minister M. A. Baby said that the impact of the scholarship programme would be immense. “This programme will reorient academic values currently prevailing in the State.”