Linking science and innovation

Context: As per Wilhelm von Humboldt, the purpose of a research university is to search for knowledge. However, it is said that such knowledge becomes more beneficial when it walks out of the university’s door in the heads of its students.

About the linear model of innovation

This mental model states that scientific research leads to discoveries. These discoveries enable the development of new technology. The new technology feeds into production and the market.

Shortcomings in the model

Scientific research actually has a very limited role in industrial innovation. This is because scientific research aims to generate new ideas or lead to an enhanced understanding of nature. Whereas, technology is meant to expand the realm of practical human possibility. It is aimed at developing a new product or service. Therefore, utility is at the heart of technology, or engineering

About a chain-linked model of innovation: It was proposed to replace the simplistic linear model.

(1) It proposes that Innovation starts and ends with the market. Further, designing and testing is the core development activity.

(2) Knowledge — both technological and scientific — plays a key role not as a trigger for innovation, but as a repository which helps solve problems. Research is done to gather more knowledge to solve the problem where present knowledge has failed to solve problems.

(3) Scientific research plays an important role in reinvigorating technical progress in some particular field. It is important in science-based industries and to the innovation of new technological paradigms. For example, it plays an important role in the advancement in certain fields, like biotechnology and semiconductors.

(4) The scientific research in itself alone does not matter in most of the world’s R&D effort. R&D in firms aims to improve existing products through development of new products. Thereafter, public scientific research alone does not matter. The firms must have in-house research to produce new knowledge using the output of the public research system. Therefore, Public scientific research can serve as a well-spring for industrial innovation.

Importance of public research:

(1) The public research done in the research universities are great sources for new scientific understanding. For example, Stanford is seen as a definitive contributor to Silicon Valley and its technology giants.

(2) Talent (or Student) is the key output of public research: For example, Stanford’s students have found a number of great companies — Hewlett-Packard, Varian, Google, Yahoo, Uber, Twitter, Apple, and hundreds more. There have been a number of other contributions in the field of economy, science, literature and every field.

India’s R&D Situation

In 2019, the Indian government funded roughly 63% of the national R&D. About 7% R&D happened in our universities, and 56% in autonomous government R&D laboratories.

Approximately 10% of National R&D is publicly funded scientific research aimed explicitly at industry in the Council of Scientific and Industrial Research, the Ministries of Science and Technology, Earth Sciences, and Electronics and Information Technology, and the Department of Biotechnology.

What are the problems in India?

India’s publicly-funded research is mostly concentrated in autonomous laboratories instead of industry and the higher education system. This may lead India to miss a huge opportunity.

The scientific researches in India have been under-invested or under-funded because it has been believed that the benefits would not be apparent enough.

Way Forward

There should be clarity about the concepts of science and technology. This can save firms and public research institutions from wasting work and effort.

The government should focus on increasing public subsidy of scientific research. Further, India’s publicly funding scientific research must be done within the higher education system, and not in autonomous laboratories.

Doing research in the autonomous laboratories deprives society from getting output of talent (or students).

Source: The post is based on an article “Linking science and innovations” published in the Business Standard on 31st May 2022.

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