Sunday, July 30, 2006

Published in the IIS Newsletter Jan 2006

A Graduate’s anguish

As the nation marches towards vision 2020, the scientific community in India is impeding its own progress. The Intelligentsia of India bears the sacred task of furthering knowledge and learning. A better job can be made of it is a prevalent feeling. The situation is likened to a racer who just can’t utilize the abundant fuel available to it.
The student component of an educational institution is as important as any other. Being among students here, one easily realizes the tremendous potential that lies in our human resources. The fact that Indian students contribute majorly to the world economy speaks volumes about our potential. Unfortunately, these diamonds in the rough aren’t quite being polished. It must be acknowledged that primary and secondary education in India can do a lot better than it is doing now. However, the importance of higher education can’t be neglected. Denying training to virtuous students can be quite a folly. I try to explore the facet of this situation that applies to graduates in Life Sciences under the broad issue of higher education in the country.
A fresh graduate who devotes himself to Science is often disappointed to note that there are not many ‘good’ options. Indeed, only a fraction of worthy students receives a ‘good’ higher education here. Colleges in country have begun to show promise at this level. But how much they can manage in their meagre resources is anybody’s guess. In stark contrast “hundred crore” rupee grants are being handed out to haloed research institutions for furthering science. The commendable research that comes out of these places can’t be maligned. But questions regarding how much of their grants are invested in nurturing minds for the future can certainly be raised.
The philosophy that “a large number of mediocres can’t replace small number of brilliant minds” holds water. It is unfeasible, however, to take the “small” number so literally. Two, four, seven, ten… are the number of students our five star institutions take in every year. Merited Universities in the country have a larger intake though. It’s apparent that Universities that can educate students in larger numbers as well as or better than the research institutes do. Besides, the large faculty and student force might be able to do a lot more science as well. With better infrastructure (and faculty) in Universities, we might take one step ahead to solve the problem of underutilization of talent.
Fundamentally, sequestering fine brains out of access to students is as much a sin as withdrawing funds from education itself. Research does progress along with teaching, a lesson that a few people fail to learn from foreign universities they strive to collaborate with. Numerous research institutes are coming up in the country to do highly focused research, and they do it too. But why doesn’t it dawn on anyone that these aren’t the ideal places for learning. Often, the institute is a factory, publications are the product and students are labour. Whatever they learn is picked up by the way and no attention is paid to broadening their horizons. A university setup on the other hand, while solving the problem of numbers to some extent, allows for Scientists to impart their knowledge and more importantly, their way of thinking to students keeping them honest at the same time.
Bolstering University education might be a one of the many solutions us students are looking for.
While this shift is conceived and materializes, students can only hope for the best, perform as best as their environment allows and hang on. For surely things will change for the better and we’ll be there to make it happen.