Last week, there were mixed reactions from academics and scientists when Narayana Murthy, co-founder and chairman emeritus of software giant Infosys, said that India has not made any ‘earth-shaking innovation’ in 60 years. In Mumbai for the Whistling Woods International convocation on Friday, Murthy spoke with HT Education about what his statement really means, why Indian institutes have no excuse to fare badly in global rankings and the research constraints in the country.
Your comment on Indian innovation got mixed reactions from the education world. Why do you think we lag in research and innovation, and what can we do to fix this?
My statement has been misconstrued. What I really meant was that the engineers graduating from IITs and IISc in the past 60 years have not made any earth-shaking innovation that has been globally accepted by households. Laser, fax machine, GPS —all these came from MIT and are widely accepted. I did not mean that there was no research, but nothing that made global impact.
We have to teach our youngsters right from the school level to relate what they learn in the classroom to the real world. For instance, Iwent to a school in Bangalore and asked why do we have different seasons? The students did not even know that the axis of rotation causes this. I asked the same question in a school in Japan and the students looked at me as if I am some stupid fellow, asking such an obvious question. I asked a girl what would happen if the earth’s axis was at 45 degrees instead of 23.5 degrees. She instantly answered that we will be completely covered in snow. This is what is needed to push research in education.
A recent report states that Indian parents are the most keen to send their children abroad for higher education. Why do you think this is?
All parents want good quality education for their children, which they know can help them achieve a good life in the future. We have huge competition to get into Indian colleges, but we don’t have enough high quality institutes to support them. This is the very reason that parents are keen on sending children abroad.
Do you think the Indian education system is in line with industry needs? Several reports suggest that companies spend huge amounts of money to train fresh graduates.
A McKinsey survey states that hardly 25% engineering graduates and 40% of science and math graduates are employable. The reality is that we employ a large number of engineers every year, from colleges that are not the best. Infosys hired about 25,000 engineers last year. The quality of education that they have received is not what we would like them to have. Therefore, we have to train them to make them relevant to the firm.
We have programmes such as CampusConnect, where we interact with students and help colleges improve their curriculum, so that graduates fit industry needs.
Is politicisation of education a concern in India? How important is it to allow institutes to be independent?
Everybody is interested in making India better, be it politicians, educationists or bureaucrats. But somehow, we have not been able to sit together and openly discuss our problems and solutions. We have to thus bring our academics, industry experts and bureaucrats together and then decide how we make Indian science education the best in the world. Unless we set a goal, we can’t achieve it.
While Indian institutes are slipping in the global rankings, it is often argued that the parameters that they are judged on are not conducive to our education system. Do you agree? Do we need to have our own ranking system?
Institutes in China, Hong Kong, Singapore and Eastern Europe have got into these lists. Simply saying that those parameters are not suited to us is baseless. We live in a globalised world. I don’t think there is anything uniquely different about India that requires it to define different parameters. We have adopted the western system of education, so why don’t we stick to those standards?