Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Saturday pitched for greater academic freedom and autonomy to universities and said the educational institutions “must be freed from the clutches of excessive regulation and cumbersome procedures”.
Speaking at the 102nd session of the Indian Science Congress at the University of Mumbai, Modi said these were required to place the university system at the “cutting edge of the research and development activities in the country”.
His statement assumes significance at a time when Human Resource Development Minister Smriti Irani has been courting controversies on letting the Rashtriya Swyamsevak Sangh (RSS) influence the Indian education system.
Pointing out that the ease of doing research was as important as ease of doing business, Modi promised the scientific community that he would cut red tape. “When I speak of ease of doing business in India, I also want to pay equal attention to ease of doing research and development in India.. We need to put science, technology and innovation at the top of national priorities,” Modi said.
“Funding proposals should not take too long to clear. Meeting applications, requirements should not become more complex than research,” he said.There must be as much emphasis on research as on teaching. In turn, the universities must also subscribe to highest standards of academic excellence and accountability, he said.
He also stressed the need for making investment in science and technology a part of corporate social responsibility and said digital connectivity must be “as much a basic right” as access to schools while calling for efforts to “revive the romance” of science in society and “rekindle” the love for it in children.
Lauding the scientist community for their pioneering work that placed the nation at the global forefront, the prime minister said the country’s investments in science and technology were far too concentrated in the central government agencies and must be broad-based.
He also called for efforts to ensure that science, technology and innovation reach the poorest, the remotest and the most vulnerable person. “To me, the arms of science, technology and innovation must reach the poorest, the remotest and the most vulnerable person,” he said.
Reaching out to scientists, who often complain of bureaucratic hurdles and funding troubles for research, he said, “We want our scientists and researchers to explore the mysteries of science and not of government procedures. We want them to consider publications not government approvals.”
Outlining the objectives for Indian scientists, he emphasised the need for working towards more resilient agriculture, affordable technologies for rural areas, improving health care and making clean technology affordable. He also asked scientists to work towards making India a leading manufacturing nation and a hub for knowledge and technology-intensive industries.
He congratulated the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) for placing the Mangalyaan in the Mars orbit on its first attempt and said, “Whenever the world shut its door on us, our scientists responded with the zeal of a national mission.” He also emphasised the importance of science helping shape modern India while highlighting how with modest resources Indian scientists have built outstanding institutions.
He said a nation’s progress and its human development were linked to science and technology, but it could also increase inequality and damage the environment. “A nation’s progress and its human development are linked to science and technology. It can remove national barriers, unify the world and advance peace, as it can bring nations, rich and poor in a shared effort to global challenges.” However, Modi was quick to caution that “it (science) can increase inequality, make wars more lethal and damage our environment”.