It's an accepted fact that Indian universities cannot really compare with their international compatriots when it comes to the amount of research students do. But better by how much? "Four hundred percent," said Achuthsankar S Nair, one of the panelists for a discussion on whether 'India has forgotten about Research and Development'.
As to how he arrived at that number, the Director of the Centre for Bioinformatics from the University of Kerala, said, "How bad we are is that where the Kerala University produced 1 patent in 76 years of existence, MIT (Massachusetts Institute of Technology) registered 400 patents in the last year alone. That's how I arrived at that number."
Much to the amusement of a packed audience, Nair went on to liken the existing education system to a kola-puttu where students were made to "fit a mould" and take only the "filling" that teachers put into them. Going even further, fellow panelist Dr Anbumani Ramadoss openly said, "When did India ever have Research and Development to forget about it? India produces nearly 2/3rd of the vaccines in the developing world but have we ever developed a single one? We are copycats," he said and added, "The system is where it went wrong," added the PMK leader and former Union Health Minister.
Other reasons why research was suffering in Indian varsities, according to panelists, were the fact that it simply didn't pay. "The kind of budgets that are allocated to research in other countries and here is not comparable. I was visiting NIH where the director told me their budget had been 'slashed' to $30 billion. I felt ashamed because India's entire health budget covering disease prevention, hospital running and research was $3 billion." Nair added that there was very little incentive to do research because there was little respect or incentive for it, "A lot of bright young people are wasting their time going and doing usless IT jobs for quick money," he said.
And the solution? IIT-M Chemistry professor P Selvam said that a "cosmopolitan" atmosphere to research may just help matters, while 20-year-old entrepreneur Ritesh Agarwal who founded Oravel said that people need to stop looking at innovation as a risk. Offering some hope, chairperson Som Mittal, former President of NASSCOM said that years ago education wasn't something that people across classes were pushing for, "Now people who work in my household are insistent that after their dinner, their children must study.
This may happen for research soon," he said with a smile.