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Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh was the chief guest at the Golden Jubilee Convocation at the Indian Institute of Technology-Bombay at Powai. This is how he inspired the students of the prestigious institute.
I am delighted to be here at your prestigious institution on this auspicious day. I wish each one you a life of purposive action and professional fulfillment. Standing here this afternoon, my thoughts go back to those early days after Independence when our national leaders built great institutions of learning to help lay the foundations of a new India. The Indian Institutes of Technology were part of this great nation building effort. I salute the memory of all those who dedicated their lives to building this and other such great institutions of academic excellence.
The IITs have become an integral constituent of what is known as 'Brand India', like our nuclear science institutions, that Dr Kakodkar has dedicated his life to, like Mr Premji's Wipro and Mr Narayanamurthy's Infosys and like so many other centres of research and teaching that have given several generations of young Indians new opportunities that my own generation could only dream of.
Today, as we celebrate the Golden Jubilee of IIT Bombay, we feel a sense of pride. But that pride must be tempered by the concern that we still do not have the required number of such institutions to offer adequate developmental opportunities to all our bright young women and men.
Every year when I see how many hundreds of thousands of students apply for admission to these institutions, and when I see how high have become the minimum cut-off marks for admission, my heart is pained by the limits we are placing on the opportunities available to our youth.
That is precisely why our government took the initiative to expand the opportunities for higher and technical education in India. During the last eight years Indian higher education, as well as secondary and technical education, have experienced a quantum jump in terms of the investment being made and the number of seats being created for students. I compliment my colleague Shri Kapil Sibal for leading this effort.
Our government has opened new IITs, new IIMs and new institutions for teaching and research in the sciences. We have increased investment in school education. We have increased scholarships for the disadvantaged sections of our society. We have set up new institutions in different parts of the country so that our children can get the best education available closer home.
One of the major challenges that we face today is to ensure that this quantitative expansion in institutions and seats also fosters a qualitative improvement in the working of institutions of higher learning. India currently lags behind many other countries in terms of research and development and we must work much harder to bridge this knowledge gap.
I am happy that IIT Bombay has made research a priority. I am told that a number of centres in the institute are engaged in research on several important areas. These include the National Centre for Photovoltaic Research and Education, the 1 Megawatt National Solar Thermal Test Facility and the Indo-US Clean Energy Centre for Photovoltaics. I am sure these efforts will result in very useful outcomes.
As India's economy becomes bigger and more developed, so too must our knowledge base. A developing country like ours has to catch up with other more developed nations and this 'catch-up' process depends vitally on our ability to harness human resources for development.
Another challenge is to ensure that the investment we make in higher education in fact contributes more directly to nation building. Here the IITs face an immediate challenge of making their curriculum more relevant to our needs. I am aware that this is a subject of much lively discussion among your faculty and alumnus. How do we incentivise our engineering graduates to bring their professional knowledge to bear more directly on our development processes? This would be in keeping with the vision for IITs that Pandit Nehru articulated when he laid the foundation stone of IIT Bombay. He said, that the role of the IITs would be, and I quote, "to provide scientists and technologists of the highest caliber who would engage in research, design and development to help building the nation toward self reliance in her technological needs".
Many of our best IIT students have, over the years, migrated abroad in search of better opportunities. I do not grudge that. Some of them have returned home to serve our Motherland. Some do so from where they are, in some of the best institutions of the world. A large number of our IIT graduates move away from their core disciplines into management, finance, marketing and even the civil services. Without doubt, they have much to contribute in their new fields of work.
The students graduating today have a long list of IIT Bombay alumni to inspire them. Each of the preceding 49 Convocations of this great institution has seen the graduation of a very talented group of young men and women. They have made important contributions in a wide range of disciplines and have added lustre to the global image of India. Several of them have risen to top positions internationally including Arun Netravali, former head of Bell Laboratories, and Nitin Nohria, the current Dean of Harvard Business School. One of our brightest Cabinet Ministers, Shri Jairam Ramesh is an alumnus of IIT Bombay, as is Shri Nandan Nilekani who carries the enormous responsibility of implementing India's ambitious programme for providing all its citizens with a Unique Identification number.
India needs millions of engineers and millions more of technically qualified workers and skilled professionals. There was a time when engineers like M Vishwesharayya and K L Rao provided leadership to our power projects and irrigation projects and were regarded as national leaders. Today India needs national leaders from the fields of engineering and science. Not just politics, sport and cinema!
Friends, India is on the move. And so, you enter a world of opportunities. How you make use of these opportunities, how you shape them, how you create new opportunities for newer generations of our youth will shape the future of this ancient land.
I know that in the recent past we have lived through a period of excessive pessimism and negativism. Some of this is natural. Our society has been experiencing a 'revolution of rising expectations'. Hopes are high, but are often not realised. This breeds cynicism. The challenge before you is to retain your sense of hope and optimism even as you surmount the hurdles you face and overcome the challenges that are posed.
When I look back at my own life I am humbled and gratified by the distance my generation has travelled. I studied in the light of a kerosene lamp in a dusty village that had no power, no school or college. I had to walk miles to school. In all these matters, there has been an enormous improvement in the 65 years of independent India. Even then, the progress that has been registered has often fallen short of the expectations of our people, particularly the youth. In some ways, the enormity of the task ahead of us as a nation is daunting, but our achievements so far give us confidence and hope.
India's journey, as indeed IIT Bombay's journey, these past 65 years, is a matter of great pride. After half a century of zero rate of economic growth, from 1900 to 1950, we managed to register 3.5 per cent growth for three decades after Independence, from 1950 to 1980. But from 1980 to now, over the subsequent three decades, we have nearly doubled that rate of growth. In 2003-08 we showed that we can march forward at an even higher rate of growth of 9.0 per cent.
These are not just numbers. They translate into employment opportunities for newer generations. They create new incomes and new possibilities. They help increase the government's revenues so that we can invest more in education, in health care, in eradicating poverty, hunger, disease and illiteracy.
I know that in the past year India's economy has slowed down. But this is not an inevitable or irreversible outcome. The fundamentals of our economy are sound and with greater effort being made to mobilise all the latent physical and human resources, we can go back to the growth rate of 8 to 9 percent per annum achieved from 2003 to 2008. The large investments in the development of human resources that we have made in the last 8 years would facilitate that outcome.
Science and technology have to play a major role in the transformation of our economy. The educated youth of our country have to lead the process of social and economic change. I am confident that young people like you will take the flag from our hands and march forward. I am confident that your generation will make us proud. I am confident about the future of India, because YOU are that future.
As you enter a new phase of your life never forget those who have made it possible for you to be here today. Your parents, your family and friends, your teachers and the society around you that has enabled you to receive good quality education and build the foundation of your professional life.
May your path be blessed. Jai Hind!