"We require the talent of an IIT graduate for better purposes, than advancing the sale of detergents at any of the large multinationals. That job can be done by anybody. But surely the talent, knowledge and merit of an IIT graduate isn't required for that," Mukherjee said.
Speaking at the 10th edition of the Indian Management Conclave here on Saturday, the former President laid emphasis on the need to promote basic research in the country.
He cited the example of the first year of his Presidency when at the convocation of one IIT he asked the Director whether he knew of any student who had dedicated his life for basic research or education. "The Director fumbled and replied he is not sure."
India has led the excellence in education for more than 1,800 years from 6th century BC to 12th century AD with universities such as Takshshila, Nalanda and Vikramshila, Mukherjee said.
"We don't want that every year thousands of students go abroad for higher studies. Rather I want the traffic should reverse, like it used to happen for over 1,800 years. Till Nalanda and Vikramshila were destroyed, India was leading in the field of higher education."
Mukherjee said he was proud of the country's IIT graduates.
"India has a brand name. Beginning from the first five-year plan to the 12th five-year plan, we built huge infrastructure in higher education. More than 1,000 universities, 36,000 colleges, increase in number of IITs from eight to 16, 30 NITs, scores of IIScs and also the management institutions," he said.
"But unfortunately in over 70 years from 1933, there has been no Nobel laureate who is doing basic research work in any Indian university. It is not the question of lack of talent, but ambience or the environment where students are encouraged for basic research. This is the most pertinent thing in education," he added.
Citing the example of former Chief Justice of India Sudhir Ranjan Das, Mukherjee said that he used to take classes for school students.
The former President said the country needed teachers who helped students in fostering research.
He cited the example of the legendary Vashishtha Narayan Singh, a mathematician who obtained a PhD from the University of Berkeley despite being poor due to the encouragement from his teachers.
"I would urge the teachers and faculty members to build such excellence," he said.
Mukherjee added that in general ratings globally, hardly any Indian university found a place in top 200. "It is not that Indian universities are not competent, but there are certain technicalities that are followed by others which are not followed by us."
Mukherjee said: "The world is going to be a global village, and we all will be the residents of that global village. We need to equip ourselves for the global economy by updating our skills. We have to find out new skills, new technologies and new methods that can help in advancement of society.
"India is going to be the largest economy but I don't want that economy to be stagnant."
( With inputs from IANS )