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National Research Foundation

  • 10 Jul 2023
  • 11 min read

This editorial is based on National Research Foundation: Energizing the sciences which was published in The Indian Express on 10/07/2023. It talks about National Research Foundation that will catalyse and channel interdisciplinary research for accelerating India’s ambitious development agenda.

By approving the National Research Foundation (NRF) Bill, the Indian Union Cabinet has taken a major step to enhance scientific research in the country. The NRF intends to address India’s persistent gap in research and development investments and foster a strong research environment within higher education institutions. The initiative is promising, but it also faces challenges such as ensuring fair allocation of funds, promoting interdisciplinary partnerships, and maintaining international standards.

What is the National Research Foundation (NRF)?

  • About:
    • NRF is a proposed entity that will replace the Science and Engineering Research Board of India (SERB) and catalyse and channel interdisciplinary research for accelerating India’s ambitious development agenda, through impactful knowledge creation and translation.
  • The NRF's Goals:
    • Promote interdisciplinary research that will address India's most pressing development challenges.
    • Minimize duplication of research efforts.
    • Promote the translation of research into policy and practice.
  • Features of NRF:
    • The NRF will be presided by the Prime Minister and consist of 10 major directorates, focusing on different domains of science, arts, humanities, innovation and entrepreneurship.
    • The NRF will have an 18-member board with eminent Indian and international scientists, senior government functionaries and industry leaders.
    • The NRF will be registered as a society and have an independent secretariat.
  • Expectations from NRF:
    • Increasing India’s investment in R&D from 0.7% of GDP to 2% of GDP by 2030
    • Enhancing India’s share of global scientific publications from about 5% to 7% by 2030
    • Creating a pool of talented researchers across disciplines and sectors
    • Developing innovative solutions for India’s development challenges
    • Translating scientific knowledge into social and economic benefits

What is the Need of NRF?

  • Declining Research Investment:
    • India’s research and development (R&D) expenditure-GDP ratio of 0.7% is very low when compared to major economies and is much below the world average of 1.8%, while it was much higher in countries like the US (2.8%), China (2.1%), Israel (4.3%) and South Africa (4.2%).
  • Low Research Output and Impact:
    • India trails behind in the number of patents and publications generated.
      • According to WIPO, China filed 1.538 million patent applications (with only 10% from non-resident Chinese), the US filed 605,571 applications, while India filed only 45,057, of which over 70% were from non-resident Indians.
  • Limited Research Opportunities:
    • Research funding is often restricted to elite institutions and researchers, leaving out those in marginalised areas.
      • For instance, DST officials said that about 65 % of funds from SERB went to the IITs, and only 11% to state universities.
  • Fragmentation of Research:
    • Research in India is largely conducted in silos by different institutions, leading to wastage and duplication of resources.
  • Lower Private Sector Involvement:
    • About 56% of R&D spending comes from the government and 35% from the private sector.
      • In contrast, in technologically advanced countries, the private sector leads R&D, contributing as much as 88% in Israel.
  • Lack of Focus on Social Sciences and Humanities:
    • Most of the research funding is skewed towards natural sciences and engineering, while social sciences and humanities are often neglected.

How will NRF Promote Inter-disciplinary and Problem-solving Research?

  • Provides Platform:
    • The NRF will provide the unifying platform for multi-disciplinary and multi-institutional collaborative research that can address complex challenges that require solutions from different disciplines and sectors.
      • For example, public health policy, child nutrition, air pollution and climate change are some of the areas that need inter- and trans- disciplinary research that can provide evidence informed, context relevant, resource optimising, culturally compatible and equity promoting solutions.
    • The NRF will support both commissioned task force research and investigator-initiated collaborative research in prioritised areas of India’s development.
    • The NRF will also create mindsets for engaging in multi-disciplinary research early in scientific careers, by inviting young researchers from different knowledge domains to collaborate on problem solving research.
  • Foster Collaboration:
    • The NRF will seek to involve different stakeholders in the scientific enterprise, such as the private sector, state governments, state level institutions and civil society organisations.
      • The private sector is viewed as a key partner, to infuse corporate and philanthropic funding that can augment the government’s own committed contribution and also to infuse new ideas and stimulate innovation.
    • State governments and state level institutions are vital for enhancing India’s capacity for conducting locally relevant scientific research.
    • Community participation is essential for identifying people relevant priorities for the research agenda, engaging in participatory research, monitoring and evaluating implementation and its impact as well as supporting implementation through community mobilisation.
    • Only then can the scientific enterprise become a “Jan Andolon” or people’s movement.

What are the Challenges Faced by NRF?

  • Lack of Mentorship and Career Development Support:
    • Lack of formal or informal mentorship and career development support at the institutions.
      • This can make it difficult for researchers to develop their skills and advance their careers.
  • Inadequate Support for Research Management:
    • Inadequate support for academic leadership, lab management, data management, research misconduct, and technology transfer.
      • This can lead to problems such as poor research quality, data breaches, and ethical violations.
  • Variable Quality of Periodic Assessments:
    • The quality of periodic assessments is variable, often without a performance-driven system of reward or criticism.
      • This can breed complacency and discourage researchers from taking risks.
  • Underrepresentation of Women in Science:
    • In India while the percentage of female enrolment to total enrolment has increased from 45% in 2014-15 to around 49% in 2020-21, however female occupying faculty positions in science departments is low.
    • This can limit the pool of talented researchers and create a hostile environment for women in science.
  • Equitable Funding Distribution:
    • One of the biggest challenges facing the NRF is ensuring that funding is distributed equitably across institutions in various geographic locations.
    • The NRF will need to find ways to break pattern and ensure that funding is available to institutions in all parts of the country.
  • Encouraging Interdisciplinary Collaborations:
    • Another challenge facing the NRF is encouraging interdisciplinary collaborations.
    • In the past, research in India has been conducted in silos, with different disciplines working independently of each other.
    • The NRF will need to find ways to promote collaboration between different disciplines, in order to address complex problems that require a multi-pronged approach.
  • Other Challenges:
    • Political Interference:
      • There is a risk that the NRF will be subject to political interference.
      • The NRF will need to establish clear guidelines and procedures to ensure that its decisions are based on merit, rather than political considerations.
    • Lack of Public Awareness:
      • There is a lack of public awareness about the importance of research in India.
      • The NRF will need to raise public awareness about the benefits of research, in order to build support for its work.

What Should be the Way Forward?

  • Increasing R&D Spending:
    • As India’s R&D spending is low, the NRF should aim to increase the public and private investments in research and innovation and leverage the existing resources and infrastructure efficiently.
  • Ensuring International Competitiveness:
    • The NRF should aim to enhance the quality and impact of India’s research output and improve its ranking and visibility in the global scientific community.
    • It should also facilitate the mobility and exchange of researchers, both within India and abroad, and attract talent from across the world.

Drishti Mains Question:

“National Research Foundation will promote multi-institutional, inter-disciplinary research and funding to address prioritized areas of India’s development”. Comment

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