Editorial : Economic Times : March 21

It’s not just engineering that the economy needs

It is time to make pure sciences attractive again. India’s dreams of building a knowledge economy and staying competitive among the major nations of the world will depend on overhauling (Make repairs, renovations) its education system to give the basic sciences and research into their advance the prime status they deserve. Apart from overhauling educational administration and institutions, this would call for overhauling the remuneration (Money that is paid regularly for doing work) structure for those who pursue pure science and not just its applied versions. New insights in physics, chemistry, biology, etc, will drive the commercial opportunities of the future. There is a need to encourage pure science, so that it attracts the best minds, who would drive research and produce new knowledge from which commercial applications would emerge. Last week, The Economist surveyed the assorted (classified) advanced uses to which the insights of quantum mechanics are being put, ranging from computing to communications and cryptography to mineral exploration (A careful systematic search) and creation of new materials. Cell biology offers new ways to store information.

Nano technologies derive from new advances in chemistry and the science of materials. Countries that do not generate indigenous capacity in these emerging fields of world-changing technology will be condemned (Express strong disapproval of) to dependence on countries and companies that do possess such capacity. India’s approach to science education is complicated. At school, those who excel are pushed into engineering or medicine. This must change.

India spends less than 1% of its GDP on research and development (R&D). The comparable figures for South Korea and Singapore are 4.3% and 2.2%. In India, 60% of R&D spend is by government, 4% by universities, and the remaining by business including R&D by MNC captives in India. The research spending by universities must go up sharply and the reward for those who create new knowledge in the universities and are available to specialised labs, whether of the government or of industry, must go up significantly. That calls for re-examining research priorities in government labs.