Feb 7, 2018 when youngsters were celebrating Rose Day, Indian Union Cabinet approved implementation of a Magnus budget of Rs. 1650 crore under the 'Prime Minister's Research Fellows’ (PMRF) scheme for the Science lovers. A long-awaited progressive move by the Indian Government is warmly appreciated by the Indian science fraternity but also evoked a mixed reaction from Indian research scholars.
Why Inequality among Researchers?
India, a young talent nation with bright scholars has a vision of development through innovation which is reflected by the emergence of Institutes of Nation importance or Elite Institutes. We have 23-Indian Institutes of Technology (IITs); 31-National Institute of Technology (NITs); 7-Indian Institute of Science Education and Research (IISERs); prestigious research institutes like 15 labs in Department of Biotechnology (DBT, GOI); 37 labs in Council of Scientific and industrial Research (CSIR, GOI); 26 labs under Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR, GOI); 20 All Indian Institute of Medical Science (AIIMS); Indian Institute of Science (IISc); PGIMER; NIPER and world reputed university like Delhi University (DU) and Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU).
Under PMRF scheme, “Only the students from IISc/IITs/NITs/IISERs/IIITs will be offered direct admission in Ph.D. programme in the IITs/IISc”. Why?
This is biased to exclude other institutes/scholars from PMRF scheme and offering direct Ph.D. admission to few students by exempting them from the mandatory national level exam (GATE, ICMR-NET, CSIR-UGC-NET, DBT-NET etc.).Next is an enormous hike in stipend; under PMRF scheme only 3000 fellows will get a stipend of Rs. 70000-80000 per month for pursuing Ph.D. against the current Rs. 25000- 28000.
Where we stand in Research Funding
When major science funding agencies like DBT, DST, ICMR, and CSIR are facing the financial crunch, Dr.Girish Sahani (DG-CSIR) called the situation as funding crises and urged the CSIR scientists to self-finance their research by transferring the technology to the industry. The minimal 0.85% of GDP (66.5 billion US$) is being spent on R&D which is very less as compared to the United States (2.74%), China (2.1%),European Union (2.0), Japan (3.58%), Germany (2.86%), South Korea (4.2%) and Taiwan (3.1%) which is really disheartening. The dream to be major global scientific power will remain the dream with such a low budget. Practically India, need a minimum hike to 2% GDP for Research and Development and funds will be allocated to different funding agencies and ministries engaged in scientific research. Finance Minister Arun Jaitley announced that PMRF implementation will "help in tapping the talent pool of the country for carrying out research indigenously in cutting-edge science and technology domain". But How?
Why BRAIN Drain:
Search for Good stipend/salary in PhD/PostDoc
“Even after qualifying prestigious CSIR exam, 44% of the fellows don't join Indian institutes and look for Ph.D. in abroad because of abysmally low pay".
Job security after PhD
Due to lack of PostDoc/permanent positions in academia/industries, a researcher in early 30's not able to afford a roof over their heads.
Research infrastructure/facilities for their career
Obsolete research infrastructure needs to be updated with sophisticated and high-end facilities along with trained manpower.
Redefining Real Problem: What after Ph.D.?
Merely raising the stipend of 3000 scholars to 70,000 per month for pursuing Ph.D. will not help to hold them back! Looking the current research funding scenario in India, funding agencies websites usually flashing “Call for SRF is on hold till further notification”; “Application for N-PDF will not be entertained till further notice due to lack of funds ” etc. Even the approved and sanctioned projects are delaying due to lack or non-availability of funds. Even the research scholars are facing issues in getting a timely stipend. Limited Postdocs positions with a monthly stipend of 50000 INR in India against 4,500 US$ per month (~Rs.290000/month) in United States clearly showed what drives Indian researchers to go abroad after Ph.D.
Do we have sufficient PostDoc or scientist positions with a decent salary in India at par with European or US institutes? Do we have sufficient budget to fund new and innovative research projects?
Equal opportunity for every research aspirant
Considering the fact that every Ph.D. student needs to qualify the mandatory reputed national level entrance exam for pursuing painful yet fruitful 5 years PhD, same zeal and enthusiasm, facing same hardships and work stress, sip lots of caffeine for long working hours, incredible stressful life and future insecurities, peer pressure of uncertain future, weight of dreams and responsibilities. In such scenario, if PMRF needs to be implemented, then every Ph.D. aspirant should be given equal opportunity to compete and secure fellowship. There should be NO to ELITE RESERVATION in SCIENCE.
Needs and Expectations!!
Even the current Ph.D. stipend of meager Rs. 25000 is a collective effort of agitations and protests of various government universities, Science and Medical institutes of India with the support of overseas Indian students. PMRF, appreciable move to raise fellowship to 70,000 for 30000 IIT scholars during Ph.D. is a progressive yet dilemmatic decision and need to be reconsidered as it will create the disparity between other Ph.D. scholars.
Researchers are also susceptible to inflation blue and do have the family to rise and dream to live with dignity “We are NOT Greedy neither we are Beggar”. Government and policymakers need to consider high inflation rate, researchers need to be paid well enough to feed their empty stomach and should be treated as an intellectual human resource for the betterment of the country. Stipend needs to be raised as per inflation rate. Indian Ph.D. students are getting an average stipend of Rs.30000 to 32000 per month from DBT/DST/ICMR/UGC as compared to 30,350 to 37,500 USD from NIH in the United States with an annual increment of ~ 1500 USD till completion of their Ph.D. A system of automatic revision of stipend just like pay commission for national bureaucrats need to be implemented for researchers also.
Increasing the Postdoc positions in the universities and institutes will accommodate the large force of talented PhDs which will provide them opportunities to showcase their research talent. Even Academia has a huge money problem. If possible public-private partnership PPP) funds need to be raised for supporting research in Academia and Industries. Already sanctioned new IITs, Central Universities, AIIMS, research institutes need to be functional by hiring these intellectuals. Funding is a perennial obstacle for the execution of research projects. Obsolete infrastructure in the institutes need to be renovated, new latest, sophisticated labs to be built, funding from the ministries for new projects need to be disbursed without delay to tap the brain drain. Many of the Postdocs positions in India hired once or twice for atenure of 1-3 years. Faculty positions under the various scheme like DST inspire faculty, JC Bose fellow, Ramalingaswamy fellowship, women scientist fellowship etc. are also tenure based which are unrewarding as per career per se. As truly said by Edward Teller-"The Science of Today is the Technology of Tomorrow", Indian researchers really need attention and concern of the government, policy makers, science fraternity to make India a global scientific power, As Science deserve funding and so Scientist!