A view on science policy in Manipur :Thrust on basic sciences for self-reliance

/ Guest Column / Thursday, 15 April 2021 17:22

1. Introduction-Nature of Scientific knowledge:
We study history to know how the present situation came about, in order to understand it better. History is the story of how a possibility became the reality. The history of politics tells us how time rejected countless possibilities and allowed just one to become a firm reality. Chance has therefore played an important role in the history of politics.
In the history of science, on the other hand, time has gradually caused truth to prevail. Necessity has been more influential than chance in the history of science. This is precisely where the growth of an exact science differs from that of politics. It is largely guided by philosophy and methods of sciences, which we generally call scientific culture and scientific temper.
We study science to understand nature and to question why our world is the way it is. Studying the development of science may help to improve our understanding of nature and its new philosophical traditions. Though the overall conceptual part of scientific research is global in nature, its practical implementation needs a science policy framework which is regional specific. Here lies the famous quotation “Think globally and act locally”. Professor Abdus Salam, celebrated Pakistani Nobel laureate in Physics, once remarked “Scientific thoughts and its creation is the common and shared heritage of mankind”. It simply reflects the universal nature of scientific knowledge but with no permanent dominance in science by a single nation.
2. Genesis of basic sciences and scientific culture:
In the history of sciences, it is practically impossible to find a piece of technology that cannot be traced back to the work of scientists motivated purely by a desire to understand the world. It emphasizes the need for the study of basic sciences for meaningful participation in the cutting-edge research activities at the global platform. New audacity of the human Imaginations and creative thinking, are two crucial ingredients for great advances in sciences. It also embodies the scientific culture which characterizes originality, independence of thought and dissent, and therefore a challenge to established cultural values. The safeguards for independence are free inquiry, free thought, free speech, tolerance and the willingness to arbitrate disputes on the basis of evidence.  Individual researchers and research institutions have the responsibility for developing a scientific culture in modern society.
3. Story behind history-Science in history:
James Clerk Maxwell, the famous English scientist had developed in 1865 the mathematical theory of electricity and magnetism, popularly known as ‘electromagnetic theory’ which is the first unified theory, without any concern about the practical utility of the work. In fact, the knowledge was never targeted to a specific application. In course of time, it finally leads to many useful applications such as radio, television, mobile phones, internet etc. to mention a few.
The work of celebrated scientist Albert Einstein on his theory of relativity, was based on his curiosity to understand the dynamics of space and time, and this leads to many applications including the famous mass-energy relation (E=mc2) which helps in understanding the energy release in atomic bomb based on nuclear fission and hydrogen bomb based on thermonuclear fusion. The birth of the celebrated theory of quantum mechanics which explains the subatomic world, has the same story. Modern innovative technologies are the direct products of quantum physics.  In fact, at present the scientific developments in nanotechnology, Quantum optics and quantum computer, are the seeds for new emerging technologies of tomorrow.
4. A paradox for nation’s economy : Basic versus applied sciences:
In the present global scenario of science policy, it is generally considered that the developing world and poorer nations are expected to focus only on applied problems that can prove direct results to the nation’s economy. For developing countries and poorer nations to work on pure and basic science, is often viewed from outside as indulgent and wasteful.  Therefore, many government-funded projects are largely based on applied sciences to boost nation’s economy. This is more in developing countries as research in basic science is not encouraged because of its less economic value.
However, the bias on basic sciences in the name of less economic value, is not a very correct concept. In applied sciences, the goal is merely to use research as a tool, but research in basic sciences is to become a valuable and self-sustaining pursuit in its own right. Research in basic sciences will generate a completely new knowledge which can lead the heart of modern economy. It may not give us an instant result but it will give us a deeper understanding about the world that changes all the time. In fact, new focus on basic research will produce a lasting change in science of the region. It is a paradigm shift in scientific revolution. It will bring the foundation of self-reliance in future scientific developments. The formulation of General Theory of Gravity by Albert Einstein in 1915 as a new theory of gravity, is itself an example.
5. United Nations Agenda 2030: Self-reliance in Science:
Research in basic sciences also offers an opportunity for scientists of poorer nations to stand on their own feet without the need for international supports to assess the scientific questions of their own nation and to contribute to the universal quest for knowledge. It encourages the freedom of scientific pursuits. The researchers themselves are encouraged to set the agenda for innovation and discovery to boost its research quality and innovation, in the process to strengthen the scientific foundation of the nation. It therefore not only inspires young minds to study science but also provides a study stream of qualified people for business and industry where the high-tech, intellectual experience allows them to make a positive impact. The balance between encouraging basic research and demanding technological output must be guarded closely.
The United Nations Agenda 2030 which will last for 15 years, was officially enforced from 1 June, 2016. It emphasizes the support of the governments in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) education and research in basic sciences. The scientific community urged Agenda 2030 to consider a minimum GDP percentage devoted by every nation to STEM education and basic research. The UNESCO G8 forum on Education, Research and Innovation, emphasizes the interconnection between Higher Education, Scientific Research and Innovation. Such new partnership which is generally christened as ‘Triangle of Knowledge’ is the key to sustainable development of a nation. Self-reliance in scientific research and sustainable development of a nation can only be achieved through proper implementation of triangle of knowledge – a synergy between education, research and innovation.
6. Impact and paradox of globalization on higher education:
Higher education is described as the driving force of human progress and there is a need for an innovative society in order to prepare its people to embrace global changes in the era of 21st century. With the emergence of globalization, there has been a growing demand of quality higher education and research all over the world. Globalization also carries a philosophical paradox. In fact, the globalization has brought us both opportunities and threats to the existing higher educational institutes and traditional universities, as they require some immediate measures such as international collaborations and cooperation among the institutes, networking and partnerships, faculty exchange programs and academic mobility at all levels, effective implementation of ICT in higher education and research sectors, to meet the global competencies.
7. Case study of disparities : Manipur in North-East India:
In the context on the discussion of the problems and prospects on higher education in North East part of India, the following relevant observations are highlighted. In this region there is a huge regional disparity resulted from the increasing technological gap and digital divides with the rest of the country. Such disparities are major obstacles for imparting quality education and basic research in Manipur. There is the sign of absence of scientific culture and excellence in scientific research as compared to other parts of the country. Manipur requires at least some dedicated research institutes of national importance to tackle local specific research and development (R&D). For meaningful participation in the cutting-edge research activities at the global level from the soil of this region, the establishment of dedicated research institutes in basic science and technology in this region, is highly necessary. This will definitely fill up the gap and disparity in the process of globalization of higher education and basic research in this region.

8. An appeal for establishment of institute of national importance:
There is a very strong appeal from the people of this region to the policy makers of the Government of India, for the establishment of institutes of national importance such as IIT or IISER in this region in the near future for effective participation at the national and international level. The region qualifies for such initiatives for nurturing her rich human resources and these new initiatives will definitely neutralize geographical barrier and other regional disadvantages. It all depends on the firm commitment of the state government and its continuous pressure on the central government for such initiative. The region deserves special attention on basic science research from central policy makers. This will help to build a scientific culture of excellence and self-reliance in scientific research.
The Research Institute of Science and Technology (RIST), Imphal, was initiated a few years ago and it was formally inaugurated in Imphal on 2010, and was duly registered as a registered society on 2012. It is a sweet dream for our nation building. Its establishment is to promote research in natural sciences as well as inter- and trans-disciplinary research among natural and social sciences. This will strengthen the research and education activities in the north-east region of India which has unique needs because of its geographical, historical, socio-economic, cultural and other factors. RIST approached the Manipur University for allowing the RIST to function from its premises till a permanent or alternative arrangement can be made. A Memorandum of Understanding was signed by the Vice-Chancellor of Manipur University and Director of RIST on 28th November, 2019, to function RIST from the premise of Manipur University. Many other scientific NGOs based in Manipur particularly, “Manipur Association for Promotion of Sciences “(MAPS) and “Centre for Scientific Culture Manipur” (CSCM), are working for the scientific popularization to common people in this region.

 

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