IISER are the newly formed premier national institutes, created by the Government of India to promote scientific education and research, most importantly in basic sciences. After the phenomenal successes of IITs and a very practical success in the setting up of National Institutes of Technology, IISERs are indeed a bold step, reaching for new frontiers in scientific research in an age where effectively all technological research is fuelled solely by industry needs and engineering standards.
However, after being set up in 2006, the Institutes have suffered their fair share of problems. There were many issues regarding the selection of students through IIT-JEE merit list, as the Institute faired quite poorly, and only students with ranks far behind in the Extended Merit List selected for IISERs as their last option. This put the selection process into question among many quarters. However, there hasn't been much change in the process, thanks to the lackadaisical attitude of Government. With the explosion of new IITs in the last two years, the situation is going to worsen even further for IISERs, and selection through KVPY (Kishore Vaigyanik Protsahan Yojana) may be the only feasible process to take in quality students.
It has been 5 years, and the process of proper establishment of the five planned IISERs throughout India has been hampered severely on several stages by various governmental glitches and bureaucratic bottlenecks. The proposed financial outlay for each IISER is approximately Rs. 500 crore for the first five years, yet the smooth development of infrastructure has been a dream yet to be realized.
Now, when the first batch passes out of Kolkata and Pune campuses, there is another governmental barrier blocking the way of outgoing students. Since IISERs are national institutes like the IITs, Parliament should first pass a Bill to enable them to award degrees to students. But the Centre has yet to give any kind of parliamentary endorsement to the Institutes and the matter has been hanging in a limbo. Meanwhile, doubts are being raised over the validity of the provisional degrees awarded by these institutes. This year, 38 students from IISER Kolkata, and 44 students from IISER Pune graduated in the integrated BS-MS dual degree in Biology, Chemistry, Mathematics and Physics.
While senior faculty members shrug their heads in disappointed helplessness, this raises a big question: Will basic scientific research ever be able to come out of the paralyzing crutches of bureaucratic and governmental control, and reach the status of IITs, or even to the functionality of the NITs. Elite institutions like IITs have been very lucky in prospering their research models as there was heavy industry incentive boosting them up, along with the Non-Alignment era elite collaborations. On the other hand, development of IISERs seems out of place in an India where market-forces control the prodigious output of engineers every year. Will IISER, the neglected child be able to match up to its privileged older brethren? This question may well be vital to the direction higher scientific education is going to take in coming two decades.