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Basic sciences see a surge

Within a week of attending “uninspiring” lectures at a Kolkata university, Saranyo Moitra (17) dropped out of his electronic engineering course, reports Snehal Rebello.

mumbai Updated: Nov 04, 2009 00:44 IST
Snehal Rebello

Within a week of attending “uninspiring” lectures at a Kolkata university, Saranyo Moitra (17) dropped out of his electronic engineering course.

“None of my classmates were there to become engineers. Their focus was only on placements and fat pay packages,” rued Moitra. “Students lacked curiosity and the course was not intellectually challenging,” he added.

Wanting to pursue research, Moitra, enrolled for the five-year integrated MSc programme in physics offered by the Centre for Excellence in Basic Sciences (CBS – UM) at Mumbai University’s Kalina campus this August.

This is one of the only two institutes in India set up by the Department of Atomic Energy (DAE) to cater to basic sciences. (The other one being the National Institute of Science Education and Research at Bhubaneshwar.)

“If I study basic science, I can also digress into technology creation. The basis of all new technology is pure science,” explained Moitra, who chose the pure science course over other professional courses at the Calcutta Medical College and Purdue University in the US.

Like Moitra, several others across the country are opting to studying the basic fundamentals of science.

Moitra had to clear the National Entrance Screening Test (NEST) — touted to be as tough as the IIT Joint Entrance Examination — to get admission to the five-year integrated MSc course offered in physics, chemistry, math and biology.

The first NEST held in 2007, saw only 5,000 applicants. This year the figure touched 16,000, which is double the number of applicants in 2008.

The number of students admitted to the recently established Indian Institutes of Science Education and Research (IISER) under the Ministry of Human Resource Development (MHRD) has also more than doubled over the last two years.

While last year, 200 students got enrolled across the five IISERs, this year the number has risen to 450. Applications jumped to 6,000 this year from 1,000 in 2008. At the Pune IISER alone, the number of students has jumped to 110 this year as against 54 in 2008.

Similarly, the Kishore Vaigyanik Protsahan Yojana (KVPY) — the entrance test for IISER and the Chennai Mathematical Institute — has witnessed a surge in applicants. While 30,000 aspirants applied for KVPY in 2008, the figure stands at 50,000 this year.

“The country needs high quality human resource generation. The average age of scientists and researchers is close to 55 to 60 years. They need to be replaced by young scientists,” said Deepak Mathur, CBS-UM director and senior professor at the Tata Institute of Fundamental Research (TIFR).