Why is it that America and Europe produce the most number of Nobel Laureates while India can only boast of a few such names? The reason, as some vice chancellors and professors point out, is that India does not spend enough on research in its universities.
Discussing the need to re-think research funding strategies in India, as part of a panel discussion during the launch of Times Higher Education Asia University Rankings 2014, VCs and professors agreed that there is a serious lack of government funding to carry out research in Indian universities. Prof Seyed E Hasnain of IIT Delhi cited the examples of initiatives in countries like Korea, Japan, Ireland, etc, for which the government gives a bare minimum funding to universities and this spend increases significantly based on the university’s performance. “It is important to hand-hold universities in the initial stages and support them with generous funds. In India, there is a disparity in government funding between research institutions and universities. Besides, the funding that most universities get is sometimes not even sufficient to meet the salaries of the staff, leave alone to carry out research,” he added.
Pawan Agarwal, adviser, higher education, Planning Commission, said that the challenge lies in deploying selective research funds. Comparing public funding patterns in US universities with that of India, he added that India has a long way to go. “For instance, the National Institute of Health in Maryland, USA, spends more than 1,000 times the money that Indian research institutions do on research. Similarly, while in the US, universities receive about 45% funding for facilities and services, Indian universities receive between 0% and 5%. A research excellence framework (REF) is non-existent in the context of Indian universities,” he said.
Even as efforts are on to increase the gross enrolment ratio (GER) in higher education to 30% (from 19% now) in 2020, improving the quality of research, teaching and infrastructure are paramount. Prof SC Lakhotia of Banares Hindu University (BHU) argued that the focus should be on quality education rather than research. “We must realise that universities are more than just science and technology. Our students are compartmentalised as we have narrowed down our branches of study and demarcated universities and research institutions, creating more disparity. Every institution gets basic public (government) funding and we must create a post-doctoral culture in the country, as this will help prevent brain drain,” he said.
Hasnain added that the government should work towards its proposal to create Navratna universities (on the lines of Ivy League universities) and nurture them selectively through generous funding and more autonomy.
“We must aim to be in the top ten in the Asian rankings and move on to make a mark in the world rankings,” he added.