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Updated: February 5, 2012 10:36 IST

‘Private sector must support scientific research too'

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N.R. NARAYANA MURTHY: “As long as there is culpability in the corporate sector, certainly I think the corporate sector will have to answer questions.” Photo: K. Bhagya Prakash
N.R. NARAYANA MURTHY: “As long as there is culpability in the corporate sector, certainly I think the corporate sector will have to answer questions.” Photo: K. Bhagya Prakash

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.

one of the most important points Mr.Murthy has raised in this interview
is about the formation of unified body to promote research in India.It
is very unfortunate, that even after six years of passing the bill by
parliament the agency doesn't exist in reality till now.Formation of
such unified agency to encourage quality research and science is highly
needed.

from:  Raghu Kiran Yalamanchili
Posted on: Feb 5, 2012 at 10:26 IST

@Kshitij, Does it makes common sense for an engineer who spent 4 years doing chemical engineering convert himself to a software engineer in 29 weeks (like churning out like a fast food joints), why the engineering colleges have to spend time and energy on such engineers? Is it not a waste of one's knowledge and more importantly a useful resource for the country? and do we expect such converted engineers to contribute to research and development? So instead Infosys can directly hire people who has scored well in engineering entrance exam after 12th standard, any way people who do computer diploma after 3 years from 10th standard are also good but Infosys can't and they don't hire because Infy have to show to the clients that our so and so percentage of employees are having 4 year engineering degree. It is all business and profits.

from:  prasbad
Posted on: Feb 3, 2012 at 22:54 IST

The problem with industrialists and successful entrepreneurs in India is they want to send a public message that they have obligation to Indians and India in terms of scientific research and social service but the fact is they don't have to be. They need to just take care of the profits, shareholders and at last the employees. It is the responsibility of policy makers and the educated political leaders who have real obligation but sadly these people don't know their own roles and responsibilities clearly.

from:  prasbad
Posted on: Feb 3, 2012 at 22:46 IST

Infosys in the end is also a business enterprise and what it does is
somehow proportional to its benefits(profits) and there is no wrong in
doing that also unless it is not overdone ignoring societal
responsibilities completely. Relating this to the comment made my Mr.
Vivek P regarding emulating engineering colleges and training
engineers in the stream of their choice, this seems completely out of
context for an IT company. What Infosys is doing in the Mysore campus
is in fact refining the product which engineering colleges are
delivering in India today for the betterment for the company and on
the broader perspective for the country. Infosys has changed lives of
its employees and its shareholders in this way.

from:  KSHITIJ AGARWAL
Posted on: Jan 28, 2012 at 19:49 IST

I would lend my full support to Mr.Murthy's on the topic... "Private firms must support scientific research too". But practically it doesn't sound good because until and unless they have a profit in R&D why would they do so? Engineering students must be given that exposure as earliest as possible.Private firms should come forward and join with educational institutions and try to raise the level of students by providing stuffs beyond books which will help to raise the level of students at an early level to cope with the fast moving world.This would lead to a better pool of engineers with greater capabilities to rock the world in whatever field they move ahead.

from:  SOMEN KUMAR SAHANI
Posted on: Jan 16, 2012 at 13:50 IST

Mr Murthy must preach what he has been saying for so long. The infosys campus in Mysore churns out a number of computer engineers and claims to have provided an education which colleges have missed out on.If you really wish to emulate engineering colleges, train engineers in the stream of their choice.

from:  Vivek P
Posted on: Jan 16, 2012 at 00:05 IST

I would like to lend vociferous support to Mr.Murthy's view that we need to increase our percentage of GDP that goes purely for R&D purposes.We are actually way behind the global players such as France,Germany,US, Britain, China,Japan etc. in pure R&D section . We just don't have the infrastructure to contain the brilliant stunts who go overseas and make their adopted country proud. Let's be candid. How many world class research institutes do we have and how many many of them figure world's top 25 list? The answers to these questions are very disappointing and we need to address these issues as soon as possible if we are not to be left behind in this era of modernization. We need to create an atmosphere in our society that going for research is as good and secure a proposition as working for a top notch company.Both private and public support has to be there if this has bear fruitful results.

from:  Mayank Pandey
Posted on: Jan 14, 2012 at 12:25 IST

Industry has to provide training to a graduate under probation and not expect returns from day one.Academia can prepare a student with general skills and communication skills and not specific training useful to one or two industries.Interaction between institution and industry has to be there but to burden the latter excessively may be counterproductive when the education institutions are already straining a great deal in the present era where democratization of technical education has been taking place on a large scale. It is better if the corporate sector comes forward to invest in establishing professorships, modernising the labs and suggesting changes in curriculum.

from:  J.Ravindranath
Posted on: Jan 12, 2012 at 17:38 IST

Sri Narayanamoorthy fudges on the corporates undergoing the scanner of "anti-corruption law".The startling revelations of successive scams were exemplified for the mendacity of some of the corpoates. The shower of immunity hitherto legally guaranteed,sans laws with teeth,did pave way for cos.like Sathyam,Unitech, Telenor,Swan and what not,to fleece national economy. His opinion of absolving the cos, from the ambit of anti corruption law less serves our national interest.

from:  C.Chandrasekaran
Posted on: Jan 12, 2012 at 12:31 IST

I respect Mr. Murthy and his words. The private industry won't participate in R&D unless there is a return for the investment. Private industry does not do research for charitable purposes. In saying that, the private industry needs to engage more with the education providers (and vice versa) to make education and training meaningful and useful. Many graduates learn within the first couple of days at the office, that what ever they learnt in the courses is not useful in today's world. I would also be interested to find out if Infosys has an R&D division and if yes how many products have we seen? They have made a global delivery model which is about efficient delivery (when it works), but innovation in process and delivery (read cost efficiencies) is not what an IT company should do only. There needs to be innovation in products and hence give a competitive advantage - create something. Not just code someone else's ideas. Dare to believe and compete.

from:  MAdhu
Posted on: Jan 12, 2012 at 05:54 IST
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