A study undertaken by the National Institute of Science, Technology and Development Studies has reportedly found that the Indian Institutes of Technology (IITs) lead the country’s scientific community in inventions. The IITs apparently account for 55 per cent of the total patents registered by all the universities — almost three times that of the Indian Institute of Science. Only the Sree Chitra Tirunal Institute for Medical Sciences and Technology, with 41 patents, seems to have done fairly well, with the rest not even getting into double digits. The IITs’ performance is not surprising since educationists have invariably rated them among the world’s best on the basis of faculty, quality of education and academic awards won. India’s premier technological institutes have lived up to their original goal of providing quality education in engineering and the sciences. Each of the seven technology institutes is an institution in itself, training some of the best minds in the land to keep India in the forefront of technological advancement.
But even as we raise a toast to the IITs, it is time to ask why the other universities and educational institutions do so badly. It is no secret that Indian universities are halls of academe in name only where the quality of science practised depends on regional prejudices and job potential. They do not receive much by way of encouragement when it comes to improving their R&D facilities, unlike in the US or Europe, where all the leaders of science are in the universities. On the contrary, in India, all able scientists seem to be in institutes like the Tata Institute of Fundamental Research, the Indian Institute of Science or the Indian Institute of Astrophysics. Which only makes the low number of inventions churned out by these institutes even more deplorable.
With investment in R&D clearly much too low to afford intellectual, creative or monetary satisfaction, and with Indian industry so heavily dependent on imported technologies, is it any wonder that utilitarian research, which can benefit society, remains a fool’s landfall? Besides these correctives, the scientific community must begin to think about giving something back to society, instead of continuing with the attitude of entitlement that currently prevails.