National Research Foundation (NRF) Bill, 2023 was recently approved by the Cabinet for introduction in the Parliament. The bill aims to promote Research and Development (R&D) and research funding in the country. Read here to learn more about it.
The Union Cabinet approved the introduction of the National Research Foundation (NRF) Bill, 2023 in Parliament.
The approved Bill will pave the way to establish NRF that will seed, grow and promote Research and Development (R&D) and foster a culture of research and innovation throughout India’s universities, colleges, research institutions, and R&D laboratories.
The bill, after approval in the Parliament, will establish NRF, an apex body to provide high-level strategic direction of scientific research in the country as per recommendations of the National Education Policy (NEP), at a total estimated cost of Rs. 50,000 crores during five years (2023-28).
National Research Foundation (NRF)
The Department of Science and Technology (DST) will be the administrative Department of NRF.
- It will be governed by a Governing Board consisting of eminent researchers and professionals across disciplines.
- Since the scope of the NRF is wide-ranging – impacting all ministries – the Prime Minister will be the ex-officio President of the Board and the Union Minister of Science & Technology & Union Minister of Education will be the ex-officio Vice-Presidents.
- NRF’s functioning will be governed by an Executive Council chaired by the Principal Scientific Adviser to the Government of India.
NRF will forge collaborations among the industry, academia, and government departments and research institutions, and create an interface mechanism for participation and contribution of industries and State governments in addition to the scientific and line ministries.
- It will focus on creating a policy framework and putting in place regulatory processes that can encourage collaboration and increased spending by the industry on R&D.
- The goal is to guarantee that scientific research is undertaken, funded fairly, and receives more support from the business sector.
- Less than 1% of India’s almost 40,000 higher education institutions presently do research, thus the NRF hopes to get colleges and universities involved.
- By encouraging active researchers of any age to accept NRF professorships and work with current academics, the NRF hopes to increase the capacity for research at institutions.
The bill will also repeal the Science and Engineering Research Board (SERB) established by an act of Parliament in 2008 and subsume it into NRF which has an expanded mandate and covers activities over and above the activities of SERB.
Research Ecosystem in India
One of the research centers with the quickest growth in India. But not all of the research is important.
According to research insights databases, India’s research output will increase by roughly 54% between 2017 and 2022. This is significantly higher than that of its more eminently qualified Western counterparts and more than twice as high as the worldwide average.
- India’s research output was the fourth highest in the world (between 2017 and 2022), behind China, the US, and the UK.
- India publishes the world’s sixth-largest number of peer-reviewed research papers- this growth rate is higher than the 4% average for the whole globe.
- Although it is currently less than 1% of GDP, funding for science has been rising steadily for more than 20 years.
- India now spends less than 0.7% of its GDP on research and development, even though nations like Egypt or Brazil do so more.
- Research and development expenditures of the US, China, Israel, Japan, and South Korea range from 2 to 5% of their respective GDPs.
- With government support of 2,500 postdoctoral fellowships annually, a national postdoctoral plan has taken shape.
- A startup ecosystem is developing, and academics and industry are connecting.
India has made significant investments in establishing its science and innovation foundation, including funding researchers at various career stages, setting up new institutions and governance frameworks, providing opportunities for interdisciplinary research, launching expansive infrastructure initiatives, and building state-of-the-art research facilities.
Despite these initiatives, the issue of whether India has a supportive environment for scholars who are returning in increasing numbers still exists.
- Insignificant formal or informal mentorship and career development support at the institutions.
- Research misconduct in labs if reported is addressed through internal mechanisms only.
- Inadequate support for academic leadership, lab management, data management, research misconduct, and technology transfer.
- Though all institutions in India provide some support for the financial management of extramural projects, only a few have a research development office.
- The quality of periodic assessments is variable, often without a performance-driven system of reward or criticism, which breeds complacency.
- In India while 50 percent or more science undergraduates, postgraduates, and Ph.D. students are women, only about 15 percent occupy faculty positions in science departments.
- Formal institutional mechanisms are needed to support research management and academic leadership. Expecting a researcher to be entirely self-managing is often detrimental.
India lags in the number of patents and publications produced.
- According to the World Intellectual Property Organisation (WIPO), China made as many as 1.538 million patent applications (with just 10% being made by non-resident Chinese), the US made 605,571 patent applications, while India made a mere 45,057, of which over 70% were by non-resident Indians.
Other challenges include-
- Unpredictable funding streams cause uncertainty regarding when the funds would arrive.
- Complicated application processes (many guidelines, rules, regulations, and expenditure regulations).
- Bias in favor of well-established researchers and institutions (the majority of research funding goes to IITs).
- Constrained themes that restrict intellectual freedom.
- University bureaucracy and procedures which invariably cause delays in decisions are just a few of the issues that hinder research funding.
Significance of the National Research Foundation
- The NRF will support and encourage study in the humanities, social sciences, and arts in addition to the scientific sciences.
- The development of critical thinking, communication, and creative thinking abilities depends on this integration.
- There are currently few funding sources available for this type of study. One of the National Research Foundation’s objectives is to establish directorates for social sciences, Indian languages and knowledge systems, arts, and humanities.
- To support national goals including renewable energy, combating climate change, building sustainable infrastructure, enhancing transportation, and providing accessible and affordable healthcare, it aims to identify priority areas where scientific and technological interventions may be made.
- It aims to improve government and private support for scientific research in India.
- Both the quantity and quality of research output in India have been negatively impacted by insufficient financing.
- Although the National Research Foundation’s initial budget of Rs 50,000 crore over five years does not represent a significant rise, it is anticipated that it would expand as the National Research Foundation develops popularity and makes advancements.
Other Government Initiatives for R&D
- Uchhatar Avishkar Yojana (UAY), which promotes industry-sponsored, outcome-oriented research with an outlay of Rs.475.00 crore. 25% of the funds under UAY are contributed by the Industry.
- Impacting Research Innovation and Technology (IMPRINT) focuses on socially relevant research in higher educational institutions with a budget provision of Rs.487 crore. Establishment of 9 research parks at a total cost of Rs.775 crore, 8 of them being in the Indian Institutes of Technology (IITs) and one in the Indian Institute of Science (IISc). These research parks will propel innovation through incubation and joint research between academia and industry.
- Prime Minister’s Research Fellows (PMRF) Scheme launched with an outlay of Rs.1650 crore incentivizes the most meritorious students to pursue research in the frontier areas of science & technology by offering attractive rates of fellowship from Rs.70,000/- to Rs.80,000/- per month in addition to research grant of Rs.2.00 lakh per year for five years.
- FIST (Fund for Improvement of S&T Infrastructure in Universities and Higher Educational Institutions) scheme is operated in a competitive mode of support at four levels. The financial support circumscribes six basic purposes i.e. Equipment, Infrastructural Facilities, Networking & Computational Facilities, Industrial R&D Support, SSR Activities, and Maintenance.
- PURSE (Promotion of University Research and Scientific Excellence): The main objective of the scheme is to strengthen the research capacity of performing Indian Universities and provide support for nurturing the research ecosystem and strengthening the R&D base of the Universities in the country.
- SAIF (Sophisticated Analytical Instrument Facilities) scheme is being implemented regionally to provide facilities for sophisticated analytical instruments to research workers in general and especially from the institutions which do not have such instruments to enable them to pursue R&D activities.
- SATHI (Sophisticated Analytical & Technical Help Institutes) scheme initiates the setting up of shared, professionally managed Science &Technology Infrastructure facilities readily accessible to academia, start-ups, manufacturing units, industries, and R&D Labs.
- STUTI (Synergistic Training Program Utilizing the Scientific and Technological Infrastructure) program has been designed to cater to human resources and its capacity building through open access to S&T Infrastructure across the country by organizing short-term courses/ workshops on the awareness, use, and application of various instruments and analytical techniques
Indian academic institutions need to foster world-class research environments to compete.
- This would entail procedures for the selection and evaluation of qualified and motivated academics, early-career researchers, and support personnel;
- The creation of a readily available and reasonably priced infrastructure; the development of research management capabilities and the formation of valuable collaborations.
Other parties need to get involved in these activities, such as financing organizations, to form relationships with universities.
It is essential to select employees who fit the institutional culture and mission and to coach, develop, and support them with enough resources.
The National Research Foundation shows up in the current scenario of a desperate need to enhance the research ecosystem. It has put in efforts to recast these figures. The work at hand is obvious, but how the foundation organizes itself remains to be seen.
-Article by Swathi Satish