'Govt interference, lack of research funding hurting Indian varsities'

The growing interference of the government in the higher education sector and reduction in funding for science research are preventing Indian universities and institutes from making a mark on global stage, according to P Balaram, former director of the Indian Institute of Science (IISc).

“Indian Institute of Science has always strived to be one of the best in the world. However, at every stage there have been constraints,” said Prof P Balaram.

He was chairing a session on ‘IISc as a Global Institution - Reaching the Top’ on the last day of the IISc Alumni Global Conference here on Sunday. While cautioning research institutes to brace themselves for difficult times ahead due to a reduction in funding for science, he also highlighted the rising trend of political interference in higher education. “Due to growing political interference, building institutes has become more like a game of snakes and ladders.” Refering to international rankings of universities, he added. “Institutes have to run very hard just to retain their rankings over years.”

He urged the IISc alumni, who hold top positions in reputed universities abroad, to sensitise the government on how important it is to support an institute which has survived a century. Suggesting ways on reaching the top, Prof Sunil Kumar, Dean, Booth School of Business, University of Chicago, who was also part of the panel, asked IISc to embrace risk. “It should be distinct from the global institutes and leverage its research,” he said.

In another session, ‘Mind to Market’ organised to discuss ways to convert IISc research into usable products, Prof KVS Hari, an entrepreneur himself, spoke about the difference between the Indian and the Western mindsets on entrepreneurship. “Failure is not perceived as a disadvantage in the West. In India, however, we are not allowed to fail. This mindset should change.”

Pointing to the attitude within IISc on the issue he further added, “Some of the IISc faculty think that making money is a sin. That may be one reason why many faculty may not be keen to take up entrepreneurship.” Other members of the panel also suggested various ways to boost entrepreneurial activity within IISc. C S Murali, Chairperson, Entrepreneurship Cell, Society for Innovation and Development, IISc said, “The institute should be aiming to incubate as many as 10 to 12 companies every year.”

Rajalakshmi Iyer, Chief Technology Officer, pro.com and an IISc alumna, suggested IISc to set clear targets on the number of business plans it wants to develop and the number of start-ups it wants to see in a year.

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