A general problem
In this focus group, the historical differences between the two continents concerning research and education come to the fore very sharply. In terms of... (Read More....)
A general problem
In this focus group, the historical differences between the two continents concerning research and education come to the fore very sharply. In terms of systematic knowledge development and entrepreneurship, India and Europe have had very different traditions. Europe, to begin with, has a centuries-old tradition of (1) building research teams and research culture and (2) transferring results from academic research to the world of business and industry. This is what is called the ‘valorisation’ of research or ‘technology transfer’.
Because research in Europe is still often done at the universities, it is embedded in the context of higher education. On the one hand, the European link between scientific research and higher education allows students to benefit directly from new research results and insights. On the other hand, it stimulates researchers to remain involved in educational activities. The result is the strong and extremely important European tradition of research-based education that lives on today. This is very different from the US, where research is often done at research institutes, which are separated from higher education institutions.
A major consequence of this connection between research and education in Europe is the emergence of a stable research culture. Typical of this research culture are its research groups or teams, where PhD, postdoctoral researchers and professors work closely together on related questions. Master’s students are taught by PhD students, postdoctoral researchers and professors. They are often introduced to research questions at this early stage. In this way, research groups are formed, where these different researchers and students work together to monitor the ongoing research.
Another typical aspect of a scientific research culture is the evidence-based approach to the valorisation of research results. Valorisation and innovation are embedded in the standards and processes of scientific research. Before results are transformed into products and thus reach the market and customers, they are tested and re-tested by different research teams. They have to live up to certain standards of evidence. This is the case in fields from bio-medical technology through the pharmaceutical sciences to civil engineering. This is one of the dimensions that make Europe’s research culture unique. In other words, in Europe, technology transfer is an intrinsic part of a general research culture that feeds and shapes scientific research in all domains of study.
In India, however, a scientific research culture in this sense is largely absent. There is hardly any link between research and higher education. The teaching faculty at the elite engineering colleges does not generally do research. Research groups of the kind described above are extremely rare. This is one of the reasons why fundamental scientific breakthroughs often still come from the West and not from India. As a consequence of the absence of research culture, India also lacks a tradition of relating fundamental scientific research to industry and innovation. Valorisation of research results is not embedded in evidence-based approaches. This is not to deny that India has developed indigenous research traditions and excellent technological knowledge. However, currently, our understanding of the Indian research and knowledge traditions is extremely limited.
Europe today is facing a huge problem: its population is greying and the number of students in engineering and natural sciences is diminishing significantly. The consequences are already visible on the job market: in Belgium for example, there is a structural shortage of at least 3.000 engineers. In Germany alone, there are 95.000 vacant positions for engineers. This lack of qualified engineers annually costs an estimated 7 billion Euros to Europe’s largest economy. Some of the European university laboratories cannot find the required researchers, irrespective of how good their facilities are, how willing their professors are to teach and guide researchers, and how strong the research tradition and results are.
In India, we see a vast number of bright students in applied sciences, bioscience engineering, electronic engineering etc. with an immense hunger for knowledge. The Indian government is also taking considerable policy measures to expand its higher education system. However, given its lack of research culture, it cannot provide the intellectual environment researchers are looking for. This is one of the main reasons why it loses many of its bright minds to foreign countries.
The absence of research culture in universities and the industry has another unhappy consequence. Where researchers and scientific personnel are being trained continuously in a research tradition and research skills, they often develop a personal commitment to the institutions where this happens. This institution has shaped them and keeps feeding them with new knowledge. Because this is not the case in India, we see that the highly skilled engineers and scientifically trained labor force in India tend to hop from job to job whenever this brings some financial or other benefit. If researchers are not part of a coherent team rooted in a research tradition, there is no incentive to stay at one place.
|Europe||· Alarming shortages of engineering students
· Emptying of engineering labs in the universities
|· Research culture
· Young retired professors in engineering with willingness to guide young researchers
|India||· Absence of a research culture
· Monochromic education in engineering
|· Developing interest in fundamental research and a research culture
· Willingness and funds to invest in new labs
· Numbers of engineering students
· Necessity of competition, because of which excellence is emphasised
For all the reasons mentioned above, cooperation between Europe and India in engineering should particularly pay attention to the building of a joint research culture that will provide a fertile soil for research and valorization in India itself. In doing so, we should not seek just to imitate European institutional structures. We should establish research cultures connected to the Indian cultural context.
For example, one of the characteristics of Indian culture in particular, and Asian culture in general, is the way of learning: it takes place through mimesis or imitative learning. Students emulate, imitate, and thus, learn. In western developmental psychology, imitative learning is looked down upon, seen as an inferior process of learning which is restricted either to primates or to the early stages of infant learning. However, this is a wrong view of the matter: if nothing else, the industrial developments in Japan, China and India put paid to this view. The so-called ‘reverse engineering’, which these countries are famous for, is an element of learning through imitation: imitative learning is dynamic, adaptive and flexible; it is creative too, every bit as creative as the western modes of thinking.
This is the way the India Platform is working in the focus domain of engineering. It is taking the first steps in taking cultural differences seriously when building a fertile soil for engineering research and education in India. Once this soil is well cultivated with our help, it will no doubt attract foreign researchers to invest in the country and it will also convince Indian researchers abroad to return to their country. New students will be educated and trained by these researchers. Eventually, a research culture will crystallise without the Indian society having to rely only on luck or individual genius.
Detailed here, our ongoing and proposed initiatives are a step in this direction.