“@Seema10Singh: Why The New IISc Director Has His Work Cut Out For Him

Anurag Kumar of IISc has just been appointed the new director of IISc.

Seema Singh has an interesting article in which she lists the challenges that will face him

IISc needs to change:

What worked for IISc for the last 100 years will not carry it through even in the next quarter century, let alone the next 100 years. And while rankings are a function of many things – number of PhDs, faculty, budget, etc. – and not really reflective of the true value of the institution, the 2014 Times Higher Education World Reputation Rankings shows that IISc has slipped in ranks, from 130 to below 200.

Seema argues that IISc needs to start focusing on applied research – research that results in new products.

In the past when I raised the issue of quality research resulting in products, Balaram told me I was “soft” on the industry (and hard on the academics) in not asking them to invest more in R&D. He is right to the extent that journalists cannot question industry’s poor investment in R&D, it’s their money and if they don’t see merit in R&D, their short-sightedness will come to haunt them. But institutions like IISc do research with public funds. Frankly, it’s not about value for public money, it’s about regard for public need. India needs scientists and engineers working on Indian soil to solve its problems, particularly in game-changing fields like energy, healthcare, water, and so on.

IISc scientists focus far too much on getting papers published. This needs to change:

Career scientists and engineers in research institutions like IISc have thrived mostly by publishing papers. That calls for a change. Peer review is ailing and collapsing under its own weight.

and:

The head of an Indian arm of a large publishing house tells me how “vanity publishing” has proliferated in India as the entire reward system is based on paper publication.

What should the new director do?

The new director must pick a bunch of faculty and their research groups, seek bold ideas, and back them to the hilt. If India waits for agencies like DARPA or ARPA in the US, another century will go by. The much-celebrated role of private finance (or venture capital) role in innovation and economic development is debunked by economist Mariana Mazzucato in her 2013 book The Entrepreneurial State: Debunking Public vs Private Myth, clearly establishing the solid role that government labs, engaging in high-risk research, have played in the global economic boom of past decades.
This means many will have to get out of their comfort zones, stop playing safe and do risky research. Only a director can ensure such research reaches a critical mass in a short span of time.

And increase collaboration with industry:

At any given point, there are more than 150 companies working with IISc researchers. But most of those are can be categorised as projects, hardly any would qualify as big, ambitious goals.

The full article has a lot more interesting stuff to say. You should read it.

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