Education and research institutions must spend more time in interacting with the industry, says Infosys chairman emeritus N. R. Narayana Murthy.
Five months after he stepped down as chairman of Infosys, N.R. Narayana Murthy speaks to Divya Gandhi about the Infosys Prize — the third edition of which was awarded on Monday — that he conceived to encourage science and social science talent. Mr. Murthy also offered his views on corporate India's role in encouraging science research, its engagement with politics and the problems that face the nation, including corruption.
It has been three years since the Infosys Science Prize was instituted. What has its impact been?
I am happy with the way the Infosys Science Prize has evolved…I must admit three years is too short a period to assess the impact. But we are very happy that we have a fine jury panel and jury chairs, and that they have selected a world class set of researchers [for the awards] every year.
There are ways of gauging the impact of such initiatives in the future: by the number of PhDs you produce and by the quality of PhDs, by the number of patents, number of papers in refereed A-Class journals, and papers presented in A-Class conferences. But of course we cannot say that this is because of a single initiative.
The Infosys Science Foundation has set out to encourage scientists with the awards but this does leave unresolved the question of science education. There is criticism, for instance, that private industry is interested in education to the extent that it addresses its own needs. What are your views?
Of all the companies I know of, Infosys probably spends the highest percentage of revenue on education and research. We have the world's largest corporate sector training centre. We also have the world's longest training programme for software engineers (29 weeks). And we have instituted the science prize in six categories, with the humanities introduced this year. I believe this company is an education friendly and research friendly one.
The Prime Minister recently said that private industry is not devoting enough resources to R&D, implying that public funding still bears the bigger burden of R&D funding. Can this change?
The Prime Minister is right. It is the responsibility of both the public governance system and the private sector to enhance the focus on research. To do that, I believe education and research institutions must spend more time in interacting with the industry in understanding their problems and in solving their problems.
What are the key problems in the software industry that science can help solve?
There are several areas where such collaborations can take place. For example, there is a lot of research that needs to be done in performance engineering, modelling of software systems, on requirements definition. There is a lot of research being done on improving collaborative, distributed software development models. These are key problems specific to Indian software companies.
At the Indian Science Congress a few weeks ago, the Prime Minister had expressed concern that India's position in the world of science has been overtaken by countries such as China. He sought an increase in spending on scientific research to two per cent of the GDP. What more do you think can be done to encourage scientific research and innovation?
I think I agree that we must enhance allocation for research from the current 0.9 per cent of GDP to perhaps 2.5 per cent of the GDP. And that contribution must come from the public governance system and the private sector, there is no doubt about that.
Having said that, [while] the need of the day is clearly money, we have to empower our research institutions and we have to provide full autonomy to institutions. We must create a platform like the National Science Foundation (an independent United State's government agency aimed at promoting science and engineering). The Indian Parliament passed a bill six years ago to constitute a similar agency, but it has not yet been created.
Do you think an anti-corruption law must include corporate corruption in its ambit?
As long as there is culpability in the corporate sector, certainly I think the corporate sector will have to answer questions. But I do not know if every transaction in the corporate sector must be vetted by some outside body. If the corporate sector is seen to have done something wrong in its interaction with the public governance system, then of course they are answerable. But this cannot be monitored by an external institution. We have a corporate governance system and shareholders. So we do have a pretty good foundation in shareholder democracy.