R&D and Human resource-key drivers of self reliance
- According to UNESCO’s stats, the global expenditure on research and development (R&D) has crossed $1.7 trillion.
- A comparison of the R&D spending of some of the countries representing different regions of the world and India in terms of GERD as a percentage of GDP shows India to be a low spender (only 0.66 percent of the GDP) in comparison to the developed countries and emerging economic powers of East Asia.
- The percentage expenditure for the last couple of years is showing a downward trend.
- A quick analysis of the allocations to various R&D organisations in the recently presented 2022-23 budget shows continued stagnation.
Reference to R&D in budget 2022-2023
- Defence R&D will be opened for industry, start-ups, and academia with 25 percent of the defence budget earmarked for such activities.
- Identification of sunrise opportunities in areas like artificial intelligence, geospatial systems and drones, semiconductors, space, genomics and pharmaceuticals, green energy, and clean mobility systems
Insights of Economic survey on R&D
- R&D was not mentioned in the pre-budget Economic Survey for the financial year 2021-22 in contrast to the 2020-21 Survey that flagged the issue of very low investments in R&D.
- Economic Survey 2020-21 suggested that the country needs to increase its GERD from around 0.7 per cent to over 2 percent of its GDP as is the situation with the Western and East Asian economies.
- The survey suggested that the private sector needs to raise its share of spending from 37 per cent to 68 per cent of the total spending on R&D like the other high spenders.
DST Report on R&D
- The last comprehensive report on R&D spending in India was published by the Department of Science and Technology (DST) in 2020.
- From the allocated funding in 2017-18 for R&D, 61.4 percent of the amount went to DRDO (31.6 per cent), Departments of Space (19 per cent), and Atomic Energy (10.8 per cent) leaving around 37 per cent of the allocated amount for general R&D agencies- ICAR, CSIR, DST, DBT, ICMR, etc, and only 0.9 per cent to R&D in electronics, IT, and renewable energy.
- In most of the developed capitalist countries, defence-related R&D is undertaken by the private sector.
- In India, this expenditure is mostly borne by public funding.
R&D intensive areas across world
- The most R&D intensive areas funded by the private sector are pharmaceuticals and biotechnology, IT hardware and software, automobiles, materials and chemicals, and aerospace and defence.
Public to private spending ratio
- The ratio of private to public spending in R&D was 19:81 in 2001-02, it improved to 35:65 in 2011-12 but continues to stagnate since then.
- Higher spending in R&D by the private sector can be derived by expansion of the manufacturing sector in the country.
Reasons for deterioration of R&D standards
- Between 2011-12 and 2017-18, the number of universities/institutions increased from 752 to 1,016 and doctoral degrees awarded yearly from 10,011 to 24,474.
- The increase in the number of universities/institutions and the number of doctoral students is not commensurate with the meagre increase in funding leading to deterioration in the standards of R&D work at the doctoral level.
- The situation is particularly grim in the universities that depend on the DST, DBT, ICMR and CSIR under their extramural support system.
Recommendations of NEP, 2020 on R&D
- The National Education Policy (NEP) 2020, states: “Research and innovation at education institutions in India, particularly those that are engaged in higher education, is critical.
- Evidence from the world’s best universities throughout history shows that the best teaching and learning process at the higher education level occurs in environments where there is a strong culture of research and knowledge creation.
- It suggested the establishment of a National Research Foundation (NRF) to fund competitive, peer-reviewed grant proposals from the universities, colleges, and institutions of higher learning.
- Deficit in financing: The Centre needs to cover the current deficits in R&D and cater to the present and future needs by committing to raise the spending on R&D to 1 per cent of the GDP.
- An increase of around 80 per cent in public spending on R&D would be required to achieve this.
- The amount of Rs 50,000 crore committed in the 2020-21 budget to establish NRF could be immediately used to plug the deficits in the extramural grants provided to the autonomous universities and Institutions by CSIR, DST, SERB, DBT, ICMR, ICAR, and other agencies.
- SERB AS NRF: SERB (Science Engineering Research Board), that’s already performing the job of funding projects on a competitive basis, can be upgraded to play the role envisaged for NRF.
- A virtual platform that will hold all the information on the projects granted with public funding could be developed for better information sharing.
- Joint R&D projects: With increased allocations, joint R&D projects between public institutions and start-ups/industries can also be supported.
- Funding of projects could become comprehensive and cover their entire expenditure.
R&D and Human resource
- To make India self-reliant, the country requires the upgradation of human resources in R&D.
- Currently, there is a lack of adequate expertise in many emerging areas.
- In the next five to six years, around 5,000 students/scientists need to be trained at the doctoral and postdoctoral level in the best laboratories abroad in areas of R&D where India needs to do better for national prosperity and areas of strategic importance.
- That India has established good relations with the economically developed democratic world would help.
- Concomitantly, post-doctoral work in India should be encouraged by providing better remuneration to the young scientists.
- It would be extremely useful if post-docs can be utilised in collaborative projects between institutes/universities and industry.
- Joint projects with some of the leading laboratories worldwide could also be funded by the enhanced funding allocation.
- India should be an equal partner in such projects and share the benefits of intellectual property that emerges from the joint work.
- To move from stagnation in R&D to a more dynamic ecosystem would require action on many fronts.
- Science and technology departments will have to work out how to fast-track decision-making, information sharing, and allow investigators more flexibility in utilising the funds.
- It will be useful if the science academies of India become more communicative, both with the public and government, on issues related to R&D.
- A commitment from the Centre to raise GERD to 1 per cent of the GDP in the next three years could be one of the most consequential decisions taken in the 75th year of India’s independence.