Read The Signs, Upgrade Science

Source: This post is based on the article “Read The Signs, Upgrade Science” published in The Times of India on 12th Jul 22.

Syllabus: GS3 – Science and Technology

Relevance: Transforming the science and tech ecosystem in India

Context: India was the first country to explicitly adopt ‘scientific temper’ in its Constitution, with the 42nd amendment in 1976 declaring that it shall be the duty of every citizen to develop a scientific temper, humanism and the spirit of inquiry and reform.

Despite such constitutional focus, India did not usher in transformative reforms in the science and technology (S&T) ecosystem.

China, on the other hand, revitalized its science ecosystem through systematic reforms in the 1990s. It is now even ahead of the US in a few areas, like artificial intelligence.

How can India become an innovation-led economy?

India has the economic scale, the large talent pool, the huge market size and the vibrant startup ecosystem to invest in research and then unlock its economic value.

Four major reformist interventions could potentially revolutionise Indian science:

National Research Foundation: The NRF announced by GoI with an outlay of Rs 50,000 crore over five years is an opportunity to transform the research ecosystem, especially from the governance and funding perspectives.

– Eventually, this would also improve linkages between R&D, academia and industry.

– Given the enormity of the tasks involved, India now needs to fast-track the creation of an appropriately structured NRF as an organisation which has the requisite capacity to execute.

Ease of doing research: In India, scientists spend more time on managing administrative overheads than on research. Most systems in government universities and scientific labs continue to be bureaucratic.

– Indian institutions need to create centralised research and allied industry-interfacing and fundraising offices as well as administrative support. This will allow scientists to focus on research without getting bogged down by cumbersome processes.

– Compensation structures need revision to attract scientific talent, along with progressive HR policies that have performance centricity.

Collaborative research clusters: Most S&T labs in India are not an integral part of universities, unlike in most developed nations. It is time to bring together R&D labs and institutions of higher education in a geographical area under a unified thematic cluster through functional mergers, both hard and soft.

– Clustering would enable these entities to be competitive in securing international research projects, and to attract leading overseas faculty and superior researchers.

– These would eventually lead to improved global research ranking of universities.

– This cluster-like structure would lead to an overall increase in the efficiency and effectiveness of research outputs, ultimately leading to better economic and social value-creation for the country.

Science in the public imagination: India does not celebrate science and there are very few scientists in public imagination today. Print and electronic media rarely cover S&T and there are very few popular science films, OTT content or books.

– Institutionalise a robust science communication function in each university and S&T unit.

– Create an imaginative line-up of initiatives and activities round the year. This will go a long way in popularising and celebrating science in India.

Way forward

India now needs to narrow the gulf between science and society. It must be understood that scientific knowledge is a common public good in the country.

Scientific and technological research forms the backbone for innovations. It’s time to strengthen India’s research backbone by revitalising India’s S&T agenda.

Indeed, India should declare 2020-30 as a decade of radical transformation for its science.

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