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Focus on trained manpower: NRI scientists

Though India has the advantage of human capital, scientists underlined the need to capitalise on the abundant raw material.

india Updated: Mar 14, 2006 18:59 IST

Overseas Indian scientists say the country is facing a major shortage of trained manpower even as it aspires to be a knowledge hub in areas like biotechnology and nanotechnology.

"In India we do not seem to encourage innovation and reverence among young scientists. We do not seem to ask enough questions. Similarly, though we have so many engineers, there is inadequate focus on research and development," said Inder Verma of Salk Institute in California.

Verma is among the 11 members of the Standing Advisory Committee-Overseas (SAC-O) comprising leading scientists of Indian origin who meet in New Delhi annually to help the government formulate policies and take measures on the way forward.

"Though there is a certain charm of going abroad, if better faculties are created in the country scientists would not mind coming back after a few years," said Verma, a leading scientist working in the field of genetics and gene therapy.

The scientists -- who spoke to select journalists after their meeting at the Indian Institute of Immunology in New Delhi on Monday night -- pointed out that 90 per cent of Japanese researchers working in the US returned to their country after a few years unlike in the case of India.

Among areas in which India could emerge as a strong player are stem cell technology, nanotechnology, bio-engineering and bio-informatics, they felt.

"There is a need for India to invest more in human resources development and change the mindset towards education and inter-disciplinary disciplines like bio-informatics to understand the link between IT and medicine. This would help India benefit from its strength in IT," said Shankar Subramaniam of the Department of Bioengineering at the University of California.

Though India has the advantage of human capital, overseas scientists underlined the need to capitalise on the abundant raw material.

Sharing their sentiments, Science and Technology Minister Kapil Sibal said, "The foundation for India to take advantage of the developments in biotechnology, nanotechnology and other emerging areas of science is there but now we need to focus more on human resources development.

"We need to focus more on intellectual property creation, provide greater autonomy to faculties and student communities to realise their genius," said Sibal.

The minister pointed out that as against the potential in the field of biotechnology, India currently has only 15,000 scientists working in the field.

"How do we move forward with such a small number? There is not enough investment in human resources development for which we need more faculty teachers. The challenge of the future is to create better teaching faculties, more job opportunities as there is currently a disjunct between capital investment and human resources development," said Sibal.

He said the ministry is studying plans to support 20 undergraduate colleges across the country, one per state, for high quality teaching in life sciences.

There is also a proposal to award 25 special overseas fellowships for students doing research in stem cell technology and nano-biotechnology.

For the economically weaker sections, plans are under study to award 1,000 undergraduate scholarships for meritorious students, the minister said.