As of 2022, researchers in India published roughly 278,000 papers, surpassing the UK for the first time and trailing only China (a million) and the United States (721,000). In addition, as per the research insights database SciVal, India’s research output increased by 54% between 2017 and 2022. This is more than double the global average and significantly higher than its more academically established Western counterparts wherein between 2017 and 2022, the global average for research growth is 22%. Despite producing such publications at such staggering numbers., producing 1.3 million scholarly publications between 2017 and 2022, resulting in 8.9 million citations, in terms of the impact of research produced, India lags behind, ranking ninth in the world for citations generated between 2017 and 2022, the need to put in effort and funding towards high-quality and relevant research.
With this the move by the Union Government for the introduction and passing of The Anusandhan National Research Foundation Bill, 2023 bill in the recently concluded Monsoon session is a necessary intervention. The new act seeks to establish a National Research Foundation (NRF) that will lead research, innovation, and entrepreneurship in fields like natural sciences, engineering, technology, environment, health, agriculture, and the interface of sciences and humanities. Among the NRF’s primary roles would be creating research roadmaps, funding R&D growth, offering grants, supporting tech translation, promoting international collaboration, and assessing scientific research.
The NRF will serve as the apex body steering research, innovation, and entrepreneurship across a wide spectrum of disciplines. From natural sciences and technology to environmental and earth sciences, health, agriculture, and even the intersection of sciences with humanities and social sciences, the NRF’s mandate encompasses it all. This approach will foster cross-disciplinary collaboration and drive innovation from diverse perspectives. Such a holistic approach also recognises that the most significant breakthroughs often occur at the intersection of diverse fields and the NRF will nurture an environment where researchers from various backgrounds converge, sparking innovative ideas and collaborative efforts that can address complex challenges holistically.
Another critical aspect of the act is the strategic allocation of funds.. The NRF plan calls for a $6 billion investment over five years or $1.2 billion per year and will draw from various sources, including government grants, private donations, investment returns, and existing research funds, providing necessary resources to propel groundbreaking research, fuel innovative projects, and drive technological advancements that benefit our country. In practical terms, such financial support translates into tangible outcomes such as the development of new technologies, the creation of solutions to longstanding challenges, and the formulation of fresh approaches.
The act will also play an essential role in strengthening the research ecosystem. With just 255 researchers per million people, India’s research landscape stands in contrast to countries like the US with 4,245, South Korea with 7,498, the UK with 4,341, and Japan with 5,304 researchers. The stark contrast in researcher ratios underscores the need to bridge the research gap. By actively addressing this disparity, we can empower our researchers to drive innovation, boost economic growth, and position India as a global research powerhouse. The NRF’s establishment aligns with this goal, bolstering collaborative efforts to bridge the gap and enhance India’s research capacity for competitive advantage.
But despite such provisions in the act, there are larger issues at large that need to be rectified. Regrettably, India’s allocation towards research and development (R&D) as a percentage of GDP ranks among the world’s lowest. In 2022, a mere 0.65% of GDP was earmarked for R&D, significantly below the global average of 1.8%. As we aspire to elevate India to developed nation status, it’s crucial to acknowledge that high-achieving nations like the United States (2.9%), China (2.2%), and Israel (4.9%) invest substantially more in R&D. The disparity in funding undermines our ambitions and underscores the pressing need to augment R&D investment to secure a competitive future.
Additionally, India’s Gross Expenditure on Research and Development (GERD) per capita, at $43, is amongst the lowest globally. This stands in stark contrast to counterparts like Russia ($285), Brazil ($173), and Malaysia ($293) within the BRICS and ASEAN regions. Recognizing the imperative of global competitiveness, there is a need to prioritize substantial funding for research and development (R&D). Such strategic allocations not only ensure our continued leadership in scientific progress and technological breakthroughs but also foster innovation, create employment opportunities, and contribute to overall economic development.
Lastly, at present India faces a critical brain drain issue, evidenced by the exodus of talented. immigrant scientists and engineers which surged from five lakh in 2003 to a staggering 9.5 lakh in 2013, mainly to the US. This alarming trend depletes our intellectual capital, depriving our nation of skilled minds crucial for innovation, economic growth, and global competitiveness. Urgent measures are imperative to curtail such an exit, retaining our brightest minds to drive domestic progress and elevate India’s position on the global stage.
In conclusion, the establishment of the National Research Foundation signifies our commitment to fostering a culture of innovation, research excellence, and holistic development and the initiative has the potential to redefine India’s place on the global stage and create lasting positive impacts across sectors. Additionally, increasing government expenditure and creating a conducive environment for research are critical considerations in contributing to the successful implementation of this act.