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Updated: Jan 30

Courtesy- Johns Hopkins

In an exemplary move to revive the rich and traditional research-oriented methodology in Indian academia, the government has passed the National Research Foundation bill in the Lok Sabha, followed by the Rajya Sabha. The bill will repeal the Science and Engineering Research Board Act, 2008, and establish an apex body called the National Research foundation in order to provide strategic direction and administration for research in the fields of engineering, humanities, natural and social sciences.  


Not uncanny to say, as it was a matter of education (not so used in vote-bank divisive politics) it got passed very easily from both the houses of the parliament. It is of no doubt to point out that the bill itself is very revolutionary and purpose-driven but the much-needed framework for implementation of the bill (now an act) in the future is not going to be an easy task for the government.


The long history of unfair balance in the education sector, especially in higher education, has been the driving force behind such a big step. As the famous saying goes, “Dangerous the disease, rigorous will be the diagnosis.” The same applies here too. Looking from a clear, uncoated lens, we find a long history of ignorance and reluctance of the government of focusing on this very issue which nurtures and shapes the future of our country. At the grassroots level of higher education, that is colleges and universities, the gap is all the more pronounced.


With approx 450 state and private universities, and a handful of Central Universities, that is approximately 50, one might believe that the state universities will get more support. In stark contrast to this, the amount of funding, quality of education, and exposure widely lacks in the former. Let us take funding as an example. Education being a state subject, state and private universities are funded either by State governments or in a partnership model between private and state entities, but this has shown a steady decline over the years. When the dice comes to Central Universities, with some being prestigious autonomous institutions directly funded by the government of India, and others being funded through the University Grants Commission (UGC), coordinated by the Ministry of Education, the net expenditure on research is very less in both the cases. One will not be amazed to hear that the net education budget revolves around 2 to 3% of the total GDP which remains constant over the years, and the gross expenditure on research (GRED) and development remains at a mere 0.7%. This data shows the inefficiency of publicly funded research in our country.

In the initial phases after independence, one might satisfy themselves by understanding that the reason for minimal expenditure on the education, and more specifically the research sector, was a result of the focus being put on gratifying other basic yet necessary problems such as food security, internal security, and a proper structure for the basic needs of living. But after achieving this basic state of self-sufficiency, it was the government’s responsibility to act in a proactive manner towards the aforementioned issue.

Looking at history, one can see leaders like Rajiv Gandhi who took revolutionary steps towards infusing technology into the sector of education. The existing disparities between research financing in Central and state/private universities makes the way ahead harder for students to pursue their career in research. The problem does not exist independently, but it is a net consequence of problems such as lack of proper qualified teachers, unavailability of a conducive research environment, and proper guidance in these universities.  Barring some top Central universities, all other face this problem on a large scale.



After taking a thorough look over the central and state universities, let us consider the situation of foreign universities standing far apart. The developed nations spend a huge amount of their budget into the fields of research and innovation, and their efforts towards quality and inclusive education are clearly seen in their QS world rankings that are globally accepted ranking systems. Even the top central universities of India, for example, the Delhi University, and the Banaras Hindu University are not even in the top 500 educational institutions all over the world. On the other hand, universities such as Australian National University and the University of Cambridge boast of having a place in the top 50. The gap between the two sets of countries is so deeply entrenched such that steps like the NRF bill will be the only way to cover them but only after a proper implementation strategy. Under NRF, a specific committee should be constituted to properly support technological temper in state, as well as private universities. This can be done through collaboration between Central and state and even foreign universities. Some prominent examples of this are student exchange programs, educational meet ups etc. These measures also act as a bridge of diplomacy between countries and a proper memorandum of understanding for this can be signed on world summits also.  



In the era of the 21st century when the whole world is going under a technological transformation, with the market seeing a rise in the development of AI Softwares like chat GPT, it is safe to say that the future lies in technology. No matter what the criterion for a country to be a world power 50 years ago was, for instance money, or arms and ammunition, the scenario has changed now. Countries are now running and working hard towards innovation and invention in order to secure a place in the future geo-political scenario. Every single area in today's world, including space and healthcare, requires technology and research will be the first step towards it. When the focus will be given to furnish young talent from grass roots level, it is then that India will stand as a firm competitor in the race. The recent success of Chandrayaan 3 in India created a specific pedestal for ISRO in the world's scientific discourse. It can be said that today’s technological advancement and research-oriented policies will act as a base for future development.  



The main proposed structure for funding the National Research Foundation is that of a 50,000 crore rupees budget spread over 5 years. These funds will be further categorized on the basis of their need such as the Anusandhan fund which will be used for salaries and allowances, and secondly the Innovation fund for promoting research with an ultimate audit by Comptroller and Auditor general of India. Even the government, in the draft bill, proposed that private firms be asked to invest increasingly towards the foundation, taking a direct learning from the foreign countries, where private firms play a very big role in promoting research at a basic level.  

It shows that the government is clearly accepting that in the long run it cannot support the funding, as 72% of the funding is proposed through these privately owned firms. This could even disrupt the main objective of this bill, as private entities will only look at their own gain. Only big and elite corporate institutions will have an edge to take part in funding research ideas which eventually leads to profit centralisation.

Moreover, as the head of the governing body of the NRF, the Prime Minister, along with the principal secretary of the government, who will be heading the executive council that will be primarily responsible for implementing the on-ground analysis along with working on providing funding support.

It should be ensured that political intervention or corruption should not hinder this path of continuous assistance to research projects and an independent approach needs to be followed for this. It is to be noted that in the long, but disappointing tradition of Indian politics, every changing government disturbs the projects (aimed for future) initiated by their predecessor. Continuing the funding for the science and engineering research board, the current NDA government took a positive step and other forthcoming government should also take lessons from it as this is a quest for a relay marathon where the support and contribution of each head runner is required.  

In conclusion, shedding light on the saddening fact that despite the enormous talent and richness of our scientific heritage we have not even received a 100th part of all the Nobel prizes given in the world in various disciplines, it is now imperative that we step up our game and ensure that this act is properly executed, to pave the way for Indian presence in the global research field.  


By - Atharv Tomar

Atharv Tomar, in second year, is pursuing Physics Honours from Hindu College, Delhi University. He has keen interest in political sciences and related fields and loves to spend time analysing prevalent issues in society. He has special love for debating.



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