`Graduates and postgraduates produced by our educational system are leaving our shores and we have a tremendous brain drain, with hundreds leaving every year`, Minister of Science and Technology Prof. Tissa Vitharna told a gathering of university students at a two day workshop organized by the faculty of chemistry University of Kelaniya recently.
`We have a very good educational system, but there are certain shortcomings in the system which gives more emphasis to memory work rather than on attempts to solve problems,` he said
`Chemistry is virtually important not only in the Health Sciences, but for all sciences and scientific activities and for economic development, said Professor Vitharana adding that the country had to provide the science and technology inputs that would enable the country to develop, especially the small and medium enterprises with the limited financial resources.
`We need to turn out products of sufficiently good quality at a competitive price into the market to meet the challenge of an open economy. It is up to the scientists and chemists to try to meet this challenge,` he said.
From the point of view of the government it had a responsibility and the minister said that he was glad that the President as the Finance Minister had doubled the allocation for science and technology based research this year, when compared to the last year.
`Last year too the former President doubled the previous year`s amount. So we are moving in the right direction. We are trying to create a more conducive working environment for our scientists and technicians to enable them to get the necessary satisfaction and fulfillment here rather than having to go abroad,` he said.
`But while we create the working and living conditions here that should make a meaningful contribution to economic development, we have to think afresh in terms of turning out the graduates/post graduates who will be able to fulfill those applied Chemistry related responsibilities.
`We know that biotechnology has a tremendous scope. We have rich biodiversities, rich resources of natural products and we are not making the fullest use of it. We are not in any way turning out products that can be competitive in the world market.
`We have a good lesson to learn from Cuba. In 1991, when the Soviet economy collapsed Cuba which sold all its sugar to them was faced with an economic crisis and the government had to take a decision. They were to distribute as evenly as possible the limited resources and try step by step gradually, to build up their economy. It was necessary to rapidly develop in one or two fields and reach the world standard and then put products into the market, which would be competitive, worldwide. They chose the latter course and selected biotechnology. They made a substantial investment.
`I visited about 6 or 7 institutions and there are about 20 biotechnology related institutions. In fact they are turning out vaccines and they are making use of immunological methods to control and even cure cancer. They combine vaccine therapy with direct antibody attacks on cancer cells. This seems to have succeeded. They have established joint stock companies in the United States, China, and India and in so many countries,` he said
`Our Ministry of Science & Technology together with the National Science Foundation are in the process of identifying two areas which I think are going to be the two key areas to our economic development in the future. One is biotechnology. I hope to set up a separate division for biotechnology in the National Science Foundation with the aim of promoting this,` the minister added.
`The other area is Nanotechnology. The potential of Nanotechnology is immense and it links with every science. We have the type of people already in the country to work in this field.
I hope to set up a properly equipped Nanotechnology center. Hopefully we may be able to try to achieve what Cuba has achieved in biotechnology,` the Minister said.