How to attract talented scholars to science

There is a widespread feeling in the country that we are not able to attract the best students to science and if some of them are mobilized, then we work hard not to retain them. There are several ways in which brain drain and brain drift take place. Majority of the doctoral students from the elite institutions go abroad and then many stay back there. Other countries, despite being developed, are hungry to get bright students from all around the world. India needs talent to become a global super power and yet does not much care about attraction and retention of talent. This situation needs urgent change.

Unlike brain drain, brain drift is when people move from science to either non-science based occupations or get into less challenging careers. This is an issue which merits attention of the policy makers if they are serious about Indian leadership in science. The fellowship amount is so low [and has not been revised for last four years] that we should not be surprised to have the results that we have. A very large number of students [about 85%] have to support their family partly or fully. If the major attention of the student is to deal with the struggles of every day survival, then expecting them to focus entirely on research is unrealistic. About half the students received no contingency fund and thus may have to meet expenditure of some of their research activities as well. There are no annual increments implying reduction in the fellowship every year on account of inflation. How much more difficult can we make the life for a doctoral student in the country?

I have no hesitation in recommending a differential treatment for the students of elite institutions and the rest. The competition to enter the elite institution is much tougher. Just as a PhD from elite institution joins at higher level of salary, they should get additional contingency as well as scholarship based on their performance and publications. At least 20 – 35 per cent students come from very humble background. About 20 per cent students are married and thus have to maintain their own family and support their parents. Less than 30 per cent are girls.

Several steps required to attract talent and retain it would be:
[a] urgent upward revision of monthly scholarship,
[b] annual indexation to make it inflation neutral,
[c] substantial contingency linked to the nature of the problem and scope of research,
[d] extra support for participation in national and international conferences,
[e] incentives for publication as well as for developing socially useful solutions,
[f] provision of teaching assistant ship to supplement their income and overcome faculty shortage,
[g] opportunity for working in industry [public and private] and strategic organisations as well as in nationally important sectors,
[h] enhanced scholarship should also oblige every student to make at least five open source lessons in Indian languages for scholar children, and
[i] opportunity to be mentored by top scholars from around the world.

Majority of the students don’t receive any house rent allowance and therefore, get further constrained. If we want more girls in the science, more students from humble backgrounds and more focused attention on research, then much higher amount of fellowship is imperative. Fifty sessions of teaching may be made obligatory with at least 50 – 60 per cent increase in the current level of scholarship as well as contingencies and other allowances.

The quality of scientific research has to be improved urgently and the fact that many other countries like China have made so much progress cannot be ignored. Our young talent deserves better and I hope the HRD Minister will certainly consider a genuine request of the doctoral students community for enabling them to focus better on research.


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