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Strengthening of University research in India

In the mainstream consciousness of Indian media, the topic of science usually makes the front page in two yearly cycles: one, during the Nobel Prize announcements late in the year; two, when the various annual University rankings surveys are out. A common narrative that runs in parallel to this is the lack of Indian presence amongst the top. Case in point being, the latest Times Higher Education World University Rankings (one of the many conducted each year). The highest-ranked Indian university (according to the total score) is the Indian Institute of Science, in 201st-250th place. The IITs follow much lower in the table with Bombay (351-400), Delhi, Kanpur, Madras (401-500) and the rest of the universities below the top 500.

The money ploughed into research is, of course, a very important factor. It is revealing that the top institutions in the world also happen to be the best funded, with their annual budget (Stanford, $5.5 billion, Caltech, $2.3 billion, Havard, $4.7 billion) That these figures are much larger than the budgetary allocation of the Indian government on Science and Technology overall shows the unequal fight that Indian scientists are up against.

The money factor can rear its ugly head in a variety of ways. For example, lack of access to expensive research facilities can push certain research subjects off-limits, unless this is tackled via collaboration. On the lower end, import and customs duties can make the cost of an already expensive piece of equipment skyrocket. Then there is the problem of a critical mass and its accompanying effects on the local support industry.

Institutions in the west also tend to have redundancies in high-class technical equipment needed for research. If one of them goes bad, they can always bank on readily available alternatives at hand. Correspondingly, due to the aforementioned budgetary constraints, even the top Indian institutions tend to be have only one or two such instruments (of a similar class). As a result, the turnaround time is usually in months due to several back-and-forths (this is not including bureaucratic delays at the institute level and customs), which hampers research output. This disadvantage would exist until the private industry steps in to have a fully functional India office to serve Indian clients (mostly institutions). Understandably, university administrations tend to be protectionist with respect to handling machinery and allow only a handful of experienced users to independently handle them. After all, a single inadvertent mishap could push scientific results back by months.

The other side of the coin is in the west, where fully trained post-doctoral research fellows are responsible for the facilities, under the tutelage of a Professor-in-Charge. These research fellows have a PhD degree and have significant research experience and are a level below the Professor in the research group hierarchy. They act as a bridge between the group head and the doctoral students. Often, PhD students intending to have a career in academia take up these post-doctoral research positions in order to enhance their credentials and pick up new skills. The responsibilities of such a position includes being an independent researcher, intellectually contributing to the research of a group, supervising Doctoral and Masters students, devising a research plan, learning to manage a lab setup, etc. In short, this position is expected to be an apprenticeship to a future research career.

Women in Science

In India, women do take up science for degrees, but few of them go on to pursue scientific careers. The crucial period after PhD coincides with the period when some women decide to get married or have children. Naturally, women tend to lag as Indian women can’t give up on that role of motherhood.

Because of the default role of a woman as a homemaker and society’s perception that only women are responsible for rearing a child, marriage and not career is perceived to the primary goal of a woman—no matter which profession she is in.

In India, women are shown, largely as onlookers or playing a passive role, while the men are invariably shown as the doers. Women are also shown in traditional roles like nursing and mothering, while men were shown as pilots, doctors, etc. And there is an absence of role models. Women in science need mentors that they can identify with, and that too locally.

The issue of under representation of women in science is being seen with a great deal of concern all over the world. Over the years, several Academy Fellows had suggested a need to address this concern. In order to examine and study – the current status with regard to women in science in the Indian context; the factors influencing the science career for Indian women; and to suggest recommendations, the Council of the Indian Academy of Sciences had in January 2003 constituted a committee on “Women in Science”. This committee had come up with many initiatives and action plan for consideration by the Council and Fellowship. This led to the formation of the Panel for “Women in Science” (WiS), in January 2005, to carry out recommendations made by the committee and to suggest measures for obtaining suitable solutions

Promotion of Entrepreneurship Ventures by Scientists

Entrepreneurship and start-up activities in India have not only grown in numbers and geographic spread, but also in terms of creating a dynamic support system to foster entrepreneurship, enhanced levels of innovation and employment creation. According to Indian there exist, however, a number of threats to the continuing development of the Indian start-up ecosystem because of prevailing social conventions regarding education and career choices and the relative difficulty of doing business in India. Still, there is general consensus among informants that India has much potential and increasingly also the know-how to become a more innovation-driven economy than is the case today.

India is witnessing a tremendous rise in the start-up creation and business incubation, driven by an extremely diverse, inclusive entrepreneurial landscape and easy access to capital. It all started with the National Science and Technology Entrepreneurship Development Board (NSTEDB).

NSTEDB launched the Science and Technology Entrepreneurs Parks (STEP) in the early 1980’s and the Technology Business Incubators (TBI) in early 2000.1 A number of academic and non-academic institutes have now joined the forces. With over 3100+ start-ups and a steep projection to reach 10000+ by 2020, India is building its very own Silicon Valley.

India is the 3rd largest start up location globally with over 800 start-ups created each year and over USD 2.9 Billion in funding received since 2010. With a strong venture capital and private equity backbone of over 70+ active players in just 2014, 550+ angel investors and over 80+ incubators and accelerators, the youth in India are being groomed to succeed with new and innovative ideas.

The most important trend to notice is that educational institutions in India are beginning to play a vital role in developing entrepreneurial competencies and include entrepreneurship as a core course in business education.

Greater emphasis has been laid down in the recent past on benefits of entrepreneurial focused education at the universities, instilling the confidence in students to turn ideas into reality. These could be in the form of structured mentorship programs, short courses or other forms of training. Incubators are also cropping up in India with more and more number of universities and autonomous organizations undertaking to set-up these within and outside the campus as well.

In terms of reach, most of the institutes have incubation facilities which are open to external applications and at minimal expenses. Most of the top business schools and technical schools offer entrepreneurship education in the form of short and long term programs.

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