Bengaluru: The government should take a “backseat” in higher education and allow academics, administrators, students and the market to determine the future of their institutions, Infosys co-founder N.R. Narayana Murthy said on the sidelines of the Infosys Prize 2014 announcement on Thursday.
Speaking to The Hindu, he reiterated this view, and spoke of how science in India can be given a shot in the arm while making it relevant to solving the country’s problems.
Q. In what key ways can institutes reclaim their autonomy?
A. The board of governors of these institutes and universities should be able to take all decisions that pertain to the betterment of the institution. A classic example was the debate over the four-year degree course. It should be left to each university to decide what is best. And tomorrow, if those who pass out of the four-year degree courses find better employment, they are seen as better educated in the job market. Then everyone will automatically shift focus to four years.
Do you have faith in the new government’s funding of science?
I personally feel that before funding, we have to provide full freedom to institutions to determine their destiny. The market should become the leveller, the decider. Let the market decide whether an institution is good or not… One of the good things in today’s India is that the middle class is increasing. And, all of us our ready to make huge sacrifices to give quality education to our children. So I don’t know whether it is the money that is the biggest bottleneck. The biggest bottleneck is freedom.
This year, IISc. slipped a few notches in the Shanghai rankings. China has overshot India by a big margin in research publication. How can science performance in India be rescued?
If we can focus on helping children or youngsters apply whatever they learn in the class to what is around them, it will give them a problem-solving orientation… Today our learning is rote learning. You have to start this at the secondary school level. You then see a value in that learning. You start questioning and think deeper.
What are the most important problems that innovative science can help solve for India?
Institutes such as IISc., for instance, could focus on how to build better quality roads by spending as little as possible… roads that can withstand huge rain. Or how to reduce theft of electricity, reduce the amount of carbon dioxide in the air. This country is a lab for the maximum number of problems.