Biosciences education: tackling pitfalls for the future

Wednesday, 16 April 2003, 07:00 Hrs
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BANGALORE: India's intellectual capital may be the cynosure of all eyes foreign, but the signals for the future do not appear very bright with experts calling for urgent attention to bolstering basic bio-education.

Suggestions from experts in education as well as industry have again focused attention on enhancing the quality of bio-sciences education, a critical factor for the development of the country's comparatively nascent but growth-spiralling biotechnology sector.

"The bio-sciences stream at the university and lower levels is going down. Indian science education, the engine room to provide human resources for the knowledge industry, is not burning very brightly," Ashok Ganguly, chairman of ICI India Ltd., told a conference at Bangalore Bio 2003, billed as Asia's largest biotechnology trade show.

India produces three million graduates, 700,000 postgraduates and 1,500 PhDs every year in biosciences and engineering. A large percentage of them opt for overseas opportunities.

An estimated 10 percent of researchers and 15 percent engaged in pharmaceutical or biotech research and development in the U.S. are of Indian origin.

But the services model adopted by the biotechnology sector, set to grow to $1.5 billion by 2007, in areas like contract research organisation or the opportunity in clinical trials has the potential of employing 50,000 professionals over the next five years.

Bangalore, home to 50 percent of the 165 biotech companies in India, has harnessed 5,000 scientists.

India's biotechnology sector, currently worth around $150 million, is set for an exponential growth in the next five years, increasing its global market share from a mere two percent to 10 percent.

The worry of experts is that demand-supply shortfall in the future could retard growth in a sector that would catalyse the country's gross domestic product (GDP) growth to eight percent.

Ganguly's statement of desperation is not very different from remarks made by S. Sadagopan, director of Indian Institute of Information Technology, Bangalore (IIIT-B), or Rama Rao, vice chancellor of Hyderabad University, at an Asian Development Bank-organised conference in 2001.

Sadagopan and Rao had suggested that India produce PhDs in tens of thousands rather than in hundreds.

"We need to double the number of graduates and postgraduates to meet not only India's requirement but also meet a part of the global demand. Centres of excellence will have to be made operationally autonomous than in the past," N.K. Singh, member, Planning Commission, told IANS on the sidelines of Bangalore Bio 2003.

"Such institutions will have to attract faculty through a system of incentives," Singh said, adding that such a system could percolate downwards to the undergraduate levels with increased financial outlays for educational institutions.

Karnataka's Vision Group on Biotechnology, headed by India's first biotechnology company Biocon's chief Kiran Mazumdar Shaw, has come up with concrete proposals to meet the future demand of the biotechnology sector.

The group has suggested updating curriculum at the undergraduate level to include modern biology (genomics, genetics and molecular biology) as applicable to user institutions and industries.

"There is a need to incorporate a practical component of a project work at the undergraduate level and a research module at the postgraduate level to promote hands-on skills for students," Shaw said.

"We need to encourage participation of adjunct faculty," she said while suggesting higher investment in infrastructure like lab equipment, library resources and electronic connectivity at all institutions offering bio-education.

The group has also suggested university-industry collaborations, "incentivised by way of research programmes, adjunct faculty mechanisms and other mutually beneficially modalities," Shaw added.

"The 10th Five-Year Plan adopted by the National Development Council looks at the biotech sector as a catalyst to push GDP to eight percent," Planning Commission's Singh told the conference.
Source: IANS
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