Let’s recall how many Indian citizens residing in India won a Noble Prize for their work in India.
1. Gurudev Rabindranath Tagore – Literature, 1913
2. C. V. Raman – Physics, 1930
3. Mother Teresa – Peace, 1979
4. IPCC (Dr. Rajendra Pachauri)- Peace, 2007 IPCC
5. (Bachpan Bachao Aandolan), Kailash Satyarthi- Peace, 2014
Other Nobel laureates of Indian Origin were not staying in India, and working in foreign countries when their work was recognized. Regardless of nationality, I feel joyous when any human being pushes the boundaries of science and society, overcomes huge odds and, achieves something momentous.
So, the question is – why does the Indian system continue to fail to produce Nobel laureates, especially in science?
Indian media goes crazy over any worthy achievements made by Persons of Indian Origin. We proudly claim that those persons are Indians, honour them, name streets after them in India. It’s very odd – we did not care about them a day earlier, yet they become “our heroes” a day later. Worst part- we just label them ‘Made in India’. Did India contribute anything about that achievement?
A Hindu newspaper article by Diyva Srikanth carries a very good analysis on this very topic. Anyone interested must read it at the link- Made in India
To begin with, there are problems with our higher education and research systems. Another excellent article by Prof. Arvind Panagariya that I found in India Today deals with what is wrong. It is THE ultimate read on this issue – Agenda for Ms. Irani. I personally feel that top institutions and universities in the USA and elsewhere provide unparalleled autonomy and a vibrant scientific and academic environment that is hard to find in India. There is a general lack of excitement about science. Scientific criticism is not tolerated well. Research is not a way to unravel nature’s secrets and find newer ways to help society, but a job. For students, it is a means to get a degree and eventually a job. Of course, there are exceptions – bright motivated scientists, teachers and students, good bosses and, a few very good places to work- but they are very, very rare. Some of these links would prove my point. Blog of Prof. Gautam Desiraju, Does Indian Science Suck?
Come to a university in the USA, and all that changes. While working at the Michigan State University and UC San Diego, I felt that there was a buzz about science at all the time….talks, meetings, presentations, clubs – people liked discussing science with the same excitement as they liked talking basketball and football. For a scientist, his research matters the most. It is the only priority and a matter of his survival and recognition in the brutal academic world. Everyone is open to criticism, even from their students. All the other systems and infrastructure is designed to support the researchers so that they can be more efficient and deliver their best science. I saw student coming into a degree program and being transformed into serious researchers a few years later. People who did not know me have stopped me in the corridors to enquire about my research, which was new to me.
So, how can the universities and higher educations institutes in India become like their US counterparts? Or the question is- Can they?
Well – eminent people have written extensively on this topic, some of them are-
My thoughts? It’s really simple. You can learn from A Nobel Prize Winning Culture at the MRC.
First- we need a ‘will’ to do it, and then back it with solid actions.
1. Give autonomy to universities and institutions.
2. Recruit trained and talented scientists. Trust them. Give them freedom and encouragement. Let them collaborate at will. If they do not deliver results in 5 years – fire them.
3. Recruit talented clerical and supporting staff. If they do not deliver results in 5 years – fire them.
4. Cut the bureaucratic and financial red tape.
SO- if we can do all the above, we can make our institutions world class. Otherwise, we cannot.
It’s really that simple…