Reimagining the role of state universities in science education

What is the present status regarding STEM education in India?

  • India produces over 25 lakh graduates in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) every year, across bachelors and masters courses.
  • Among STEM graduates, the aggregate enrolment of students in BSc courses is close to 50 lakh.
  • However, the number of science graduates drops to 2.9 lakh at the masters level (25% of BSc graduates), and even further at the doctoral level, with only 6,000 science PhDs awarded each year.
  • In the QS Global Ranking of 1,000 universities from 82 countries, there are only 23 Indian institutions, with IIT Mumbai at 152, followed by IIT Delhi at 182 and IISc Bengaluru at 184 ranks. 
  • India produced 25,550 doctorates in 2020-21, of which 14,983 were in science and engineering disciplines. This 59 per cent proportion in the overall doctorates compares well with other countries, putting India in the seventh rank overall. 
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What are the associated challenges?

  • Lack of Funding – The expenditure on research as a proportion of GDP has gone down, from about 0.8 per cent at the start of this millennium to about 0.65 per cent now. For the last decade or so, this share has remained stagnant.
  • Lack of research – Only one per cent of universities engage in active research, according to the detailed project report on NRF on account of poor coordination between various departments and lack of interdisciplinary approach.
  • Intellectual property – In 2021, a total of 61,573 patents were filed in India, making it the sixth largest in the world. But this was nowhere close to the nearly 16 lakh patents filed in China, and about six lakhs in the United States that year.

What does NEP 2020 say about this?

  • NEP proposes to increase the overall proportion of Public Expenditure on Education from 10% to 20.9% in the next 10 years. 
  • Of this additional 10.9%, a major share of 5% has been assigned for strengthening the quality / faculty /operations at universities and colleges. 
  • In addition, it recommends greater contribution from the private sector and ‘Not-for-profit’ organisations in education.

What is NRF? 

It was recommended by N.E.P 2020 with a total estimated cost of Rs 50000 cr during five years (2023-28)An apex body to provide high-level strategic direction of scientific research in the country.

Department of Science and Technology (DST) will be the administrative Department of NRF which will be governed by a Governing Board consisting of eminent researchers and professionals across disciplines.Prime Minister will be the ex-officio President of the Board and the Union Minister of Science & Technology & Union Minister of Education will be the ex-officio Vice-Presidents. NRF’s functioning will be governed by an Executive Council chaired by the Principal Scientific Adviser to the Government of India.

NRF will forge collaborations among the industry, academia, and government departments and research institutions, and create an interface mechanism for participation and contribution of industries and State governments in addition to the scientific and line ministries. It will focus on creating a policy framework and putting in place regulatory processes that can encourage collaboration and increased spending by the industry on R&D.

Recently, the government has introduced NRF bill 2023 which will repeal the Science and Engineering Research Board (SERB) established by an act of Parliament in 2008 and subsume it into NRF which has an expanded mandate and covers activities over and above the activities of SERB.

What can be a way ahead?

  • Differentiate the needs for science and technology for a) Science education, b) Professional education and c) Vocational education.
  • Take definite steps to upgrade pedagogical capacity of the science teachers at school, college and university levels and ensure that every school has a science laboratory equipped with fundamental facilities.
  • Identify universities for research grants on the bases of their performance, scientific strength and any special needs which are location specific. 
  • A number of scientists of Indian origin are doing excellent research in the countries abroad. Such persons may be invited to work in India on sabbatical and mentor young researchers. 
  • Healthy collaboration with the private sector R&D facilities could be a win-win situation for faster development of technology and their innovative application. Best performing students may be given an opportunity to work as interns in the private labs with a possibility of placement.
  • Identify programmes in the critical fields for every five years. Strengthen the ones where India has a comparative advantage, or is at par with the global competence.
Source: The Hindu

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