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Waning interest of youth in sciences worries experts

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Divya Gandhi

National Science Day being observed today

BANGALORE: On the occasion of National Science Day on Wednesday, C.N.R. Rao, Honorary President of Jawaharlal Nehru Centre for Advanced Scientific Research (JNCASR), and P. Balaram, Director of the Indian Institute of Science (IISc), spoke to The Hindu about the status of science in India today and their vision for its future.

As IISc prepares itself for its centennial year celebrations in 2008, Prof. Balaram looks forward, he says, to the major "modernisation programme" scheduled for this year. "We need a fair amount of modernisation to keep up with the times we will be 100 years old next year after all," he says.

"We will be building new laboratories for aero-space engineering, biology and physics." There are plans for a new library building, "which will be in tune with the electronic age", he says.

Although the grant of Rs. 100 crore awarded to IISc in the 2005 budget fell far short of the institute's requirements, Prof. Balaram says it is symbolic of the Government's encouragement to the sector.

"Grants to IISc and other scientific institutes are a recognition of the fact that a strong industrial economy cannot come about without a good investment in research and development," he adds.

Prof. Rao agrees that public funding has been a vital input for the growth of science in the country. The promise of 2 per cent of GDP towards the sector is one he looks forward to. "But I believe in the involvement of the private sector, who should contribute towards higher education too."

While Prof. Rao hopes India will in time occupy the place as a "world-leader in science", he says there are several issues that need to be addressed first. "Science is at a cross roads in India. We may aspire to be a leader in science, and have made investments in the direction, but there appears to be a waning interest in the discipline among the younger generation. "Well salaried jobs, especially in the IT sector have been drawing the younger generation away from science, and I fear that at this rate we are going to be short of scientific talent very soon," Prof. Rao adds.

Touching upon some of the issues that need to be addressed in the sector, Prof. Balaram says, "we need a much greater international presence, which is something we have been encouraging lately. There is a need for collaborative research with countries across the world."

Prof. Rao feels there is a dire need for more science colleges in the country. "We have neglected students in rural India that is perhaps where the real potential is," he says adding that scholarships to encourage students from rural areas must be made available.

"There must be nothing to stop India becoming a world-leader in science, especially since leadership and economy will soon be knowledge-based," says Prof. Rao. The countries "to look out for" are those within Asia Japan in particular, with China quickly gaining ground, according to him.

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