Academic institutions in India are uncomfortable with excellence and are happy with mediocrity, eminent astrophysicist Jayant V. Narlikar said here on Wednesday.
Only a merit-based selection and review process for students and faculty will revive the university system, he said while delivering a theme lecture on Science Education and Research at the 25th Kerala Science Congress.
Dr. Narlikar, who is the founder-director of the Inter-University Centre for Astronomy and Astrophysics, said the spirit of competition and the desire for excellence were missing in Indian universities. The remedy, he said, was unpalatable, if not impractical to implement.
“It is important to reward excellence and honour merit and distinguish them from mediocrity. These criteria must be applied uncompromisingly not only to students during their intake and periodic assessments, but also to the academic faculty in recruitment and periodic reviews. That the remedy is unpalatable is evident from the resistance that is immediately put up by pressure groups representing mediocrity. Strong political will is needed to counter or face up to the strikes, dharnas, and gheraoes that will erupt if such a policy is implemented in the country,” he said.
“Unless the teaching faculty is involved in research as well, the system will become stale and sterile. Research brings in fresh air to revitalise teaching,” he said.
None of the autonomous research institutions (ARIs) set up under various departments of the Government of India had an integrated link with universities or exposure to the student population. “Contrast this with research institutions in other countries where top-class research is carried out amid the ambience of the university, with distinguished scientists lecturing to undergraduates,” he suggested. Drawing an analogy with the game of cricket, he said the situation was akin to an India-Pakistan match without spectators.
“ARIs are now finding it more and more difficult to get good research scholars. Most students do not find a scientific career attractive any more. Very few opt for science after the higher secondary course. Earlier, the joy of creativity and learning the subject from an inspiring teacher were enough to motivate a bright student to go to science. Today, they know if they opt for a Bachelor of Science stream, there is no excitement,” he added.
In this context, he said the creation of the Indian Institutes of Science Education and Research was a welcome development for revival of interest in basic sciences.
“But I feel sad for the universities. They have been bypassed. It is as if we have decided that reviving universities and raising their standards is an impossible option,” he said.