Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Saturday pitched for greater academic freedom and autonomy to universities and said 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 comes at a time when Human Resource Development Minister Smriti Irani has been courting controversy on charges of letting the Rashtriya Swyamsevak Sangh influence the Indian education system.
Saying ease of doing research was as important as ease of doing business, Modi promised the scientific community 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,” he said.
“Funding proposals should not take too long to be cleared… Applications, requirements should not become more complex than research,” he said, adding there must be as much emphasis on research as on teaching. In turn, the universities must also subscribe to the highest standards of academic excellence and accountability.
He stressed the need to make 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. He sought efforts to “revive the romance” of science in society and “rekindle” the love for it in children.
Lauding the scientific community for its pioneering work, which brought India to the global fore, the prime minister said the country’s investments in science and technology were far too concentrated among central government agencies and must be broad-based.
“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, not of government procedures. We want them to consider publications, not government approvals.”
Outlining the objectives for Indian scientists, he emphasised the need to work towards more resilient agriculture, affordable technologies for rural areas, improving health care and making clean technology affordable. He asked scientists to work towards making India a leading manufacturing hub and a centre for knowledge and technology-intensive industries.
Modi congratulated the Indian Space Research Organisation for placing the Mangalyaan in the Mars orbit at its first attempt, saying, “Whenever the world shut its door on us, our scientists responded with the zeal of a national mission.” He emphasised the importance of science in helping shape modern India and highlighted how Indian scientists had built outstanding institutions with modest resources.
“A nation’s progress and human development are linked to science and technology. These can remove national barriers, unify the world and advance peace, as it can bring nations, rich and poor, together to face global challenges,” he said. However, he was quick to caution “it (science) can increase inequality, make wars more lethal and damage our environment”.