Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Science in a TAILSPIN

Science in a TAILSPIN
Bangalore’s IT sector and the specialised research centres in Pune and Hyderabad are chipping away at its status as Science City
The Times of India

Can Bangalore hold on to the tag of Science City? It could, but the city is under pressure to do so for two reasons. Firstly, the emergence of Information Technology is threatening to overshadow its Science City status. Secondly, Pune and Hyderabad are emerging as premier science hubs in central and southern India.

In the last 10 years, IT has grown institutionally in the form of private companies and research labs and is the premier export product of the state at 37%. Science has remained the same with no increase in the number of research institutions. The present number is, however, relatively high compared to other cities. “IT in Bangalore is drawing young science researchers and even faculty away from the sciences, not due to innovative research possibilities in IT, but due to an exponential monetary component, a five-fold return over what science can offer,” says Jayant Haritsa, asst professor, Indian Institute of Science.

Bangalore is also facing stiff competition from centres of focused research in Pune and Hyderabad. Not only has the number of science institutions in the two cities gone up in the last decade, highly specialised research centres are taking root. “No new institutions have cropped up in Bangalore. There is a general feeling that Bangalore is saturated. The state is also not proactive in science. On the other hand, AP has been very proactive in science, more open. And Pune’s industrial core is attracting institutions,” says Prof G Padmanabhan, former IISc director.

Moreover, the linkages between IISc and institutions like National Aerospace Laboratories and Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd that grew out of IISc need to be refreshed and renewed. “At one point, IISc was the fulcrum of all R&D in Bangalore. Is it a fulcrum now? More needs to be done,” Padmanabhan says.

While Pune and Hyderabad are closing in, Delhi and Kolkata historically have had a great number of science institutions. Delhi has more institutions than Bangalore and Kolkata has been a traditional science centre.
“Bangalore is certainly under pressure to hold on to its tag of Science City, but as a research place it still holds an edge over other cities in the country,” says Prof Padmanabhan.

Bangalore, he observes, fortunately has a rich research and academic culture free of politics unlike Delhi. The number of publications that come out of IISc is still the highest in the country compared to any other institution; IISc is four to five times larger than any other research institute in terms of researchers, faculty and funding. Bangalore also offers the opportunity for networking across disciplines owing to a large number on offer at one place — IISc. And finally, even while linkages may be weak now, opportunity always exists for science to strengthen bonds with the wide range of space and defence research institutions located in Bangalore.

“The quality of science in general in the country has to improve, when compared to international standards. Nevertheless, Bangalore attracts the best because only the best come to IISc while in Hyderabad and Pune, there are individual, isolated cases of brilliance. Research there is focused, but it is only that specialised and isolated. Where is the generic cross-discipline variety that Bangalore offers? Of course, even at IISc, the quality of doctorate students has to go up drastically. If quality has to improve even at IISc, you can imagine the status in other cities,” says Praveen Grama, a former research student at IISc.

Bangalore has an edge but a precarious one — the number of its institutions may not be growing, but is certainly higher than what Pune and Hyderabad have. But are numbers alone enough to help it retain the tag of Science City?


Life Sciences is doing very well in terms of projects, students and funding.The shift to Life Sciences and genetic engineering in the latter part of the 20th century across countries has been a boon. There is a lot of focus on drug research, agriculture, health, food security and bio-based technologies Bio-tech research is thriving. Space, aviation and aerospace research with plenty of tie-ups, funding and projects Computer sciences are seeing a good number of private hi-tech research labs Mathematics is increasingly doing well in financial services, security issues and is beginning to make a dent in neurosciences Chemistry is playing a major role in drug and pharma research


Gradual shift in basic research towards application-oriented research in the last 10 years, even at places like IISc Engineering sciences increasingly becoming the focus of students owing to industry-linkages Basic sciences research remains high, but employment, output and industry linkages low Fund flow to basic research is good, but there’s an increasing emphasis on application value of projects and application-based projects Fund flow to engineering sciences good and it comes from diverse sources compared to the basic research funding that comes largely from the government


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