December 16, 2005
By SHAILAJA NEELAKANTAN
Concerned about the quality of science education in India, the government recently approved the creation of two new higher-education institutions, similar to the renowned Indian Institutes of Science and Technology, that will specialize in the pure sciences.
A government spokesman said that the inability of India's pure-science programs to keep pace with the times as more attention is being paid to technological education led to the establishment of the new Indian Institutes of Science Education and Research, at a cost of $218-million. They are to be based in the cities of Calcutta, the capital of West Bengal state in eastern India, and Pune, in the southwestern state of Maharashtra.
India now has only one institute of pure sciences, in Bangalore, which does not have an undergraduate program. Although other universities offer undergraduate and graduate programs in the sciences, there is no institution, aside from the one in Bangalore, that does for the pure sciences what the science and technology institutes, known as IIT's, do for engineering. The government-sponsored IIT's are among the most demanding engineering schools worldwide, and their alumni can be found in top executive positions in global companies.
The decision to create the new institutes of science and research came shortly after the September release of the government-commissioned India Science Report, which said that India's pure-science graduates and Ph.D.'s are not adequately prepared for the job market. As a result, 20 percent of science graduates and 14 percent of Ph.D.'s in science do not find gainful employment, despite growing demand for researchers. The report also said that many people employed in science-centered jobs are poorly qualified.
Meanwhile, fewer students are studying pure science after high school, as applied-science programs like engineering and medicine are considered more likely to lead to high-paying jobs. According to the University Grants Commission, India's main higher-education regulatory body, the percentage of students who choose to study science in college dropped to 20 percent in the 1990s from 31 percent in the 1950s.
"The students need to be reassured that if they opt for science they will have a reasonably good career. The most talented in science must be retained in science, even though there are better-paying jobs," Mr. R. Chidambaram, principal scientific adviser to the government, said in a local news report.
The two Indian Institutes of Science Education and Research, each of which will enroll 2,055 students when fully established, will offer programs in physical sciences, chemical sciences, mathematics, material sciences, environment and earth-system sciences, life sciences, and computer science. The institutes will integrate undergraduate education with graduate education and research, and are scheduled to open next year.
(From the Chronicle of Higher Educationk, issue dated December 16, 2005)