National Research Foundation Bill: The Prime Minister of India, Shri Narendra Modi, chaired a meeting of the Union Cabinet day before yesterday, where they approved the National Research Foundation (NRF) Bill of 2023 to be introduced in Parliament. This bill aims to establish the NRF, which will play a crucial role in promoting and supporting research and development (R&D) in India’s universities, colleges, research institutions, and R&D laboratories.
Once the bill is approved by Parliament, the National Research Foundation will be established as the highest governing body for scientific research in the country, aligning with the recommendations of the National Education Policy (NEP). The estimated cost for the NRF’s establishment over a period of five years (2023-2028) will be around Rs. 50,000 crores.
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National Research Foundation: Why is it introduced?
As per the data laid by government sources, the Research & Development (R&D) areas have seen the lowest budget allocation over the years. The report published in NITI Ayog’s India Innovation Index 2021 shows that less than 1% of its GDP has been spent on R&D, whereas major European and American countries spent more than 3% in this area.
As stated in the official press briefing by the Union Minister of the Department of the Information and Broadcasting Anurag Thakur, he said that NRF will foster collaborations among industry, academia, government departments, and research institutions. It will establish mechanisms for the participation and contribution of industries and state governments, alongside scientific and line ministries. The focus will be on creating a policy framework and regulatory processes that encourage collaboration and increased investment in R&D by industries.
The government’s new initiative will provide funding for cutting-edge scientific research, particularly for state universities, with the goal of enhancing India’s research capabilities. The NRF’s operations will be overseen by an Executive Council, led by the Principal Scientific Advisor. This council will be responsible for determining the criteria that research projects must meet in order to qualify for funding.
By setting these standards, the National Research Foundation (NRF) aims to ensure that the research supported by the foundation meets specific benchmarks of quality and relevance. The overarching objective of the NRF is to create an environment that encourages and supports research and development activities in India. By fostering collaboration between industry and academia and by providing financial resources, the foundation aims to boost the country’s research and innovation ecosystem. This, in turn, can lead to technological advancements, economic growth, and an overall strengthening of India’s position in the global research landscape.
More Empowerment in Research
During the announcement of the Union Budget 2023, the Finance Minister, Nirmala Sitharaman, allocated Rs. 2,000 crores to the National Research Foundation (NRF) as part of the Department of Science and Technology (DST). This allocation signifies that the NRF will function as a component of the DST and not as an independent agency separate from the government.
The Ministry of Science and Technology received a total allocation of Rs 16,361.42 crore, of which the DST received Rs 7,931.05 crore. Regarding the funding for National Research Foundation, the Union Minister mentioned, “Rs 14,000 crore from Centre, rest Rs 36,000 crore to be mobilized from philanthropists, public sector enterprises, global funding agencies, etc.”
The Department of Science and Technology (DST) will serve as the administrative department for the NRF, which will be governed by a distinguished Governing Board comprising renowned researchers and professionals from various disciplines. Given the wide-ranging impact of the NRF across all ministries, the Prime Minister will be the ex-officio President of the Governing Board, and the Union Minister of Science & Technology and the Union Minister of Education will serve as the ex-officio Vice-Presidents. The Principal Scientific Adviser to the Government of India will chair the Executive Council responsible for the NRF’s operations.
SERB will be dissolved, But why?
The bill will revoke the Science and Engineering Research Board (SERB), established by an act of Parliament in 2008, and integrate its activities into the NRF. The National Research Foundation (NRF) 2023 will have an expanded mandate that encompasses activities beyond those of the SERB. As stated earlier, the NRF will completely focus on Multidisciplinary research which is the need of the hour.
The main query here is whether the aim is to strengthen scientific research technologies or whether this dilution will shift its domain and lose scientific rigour. The government wants to target research as per the needs of the country’s development. But what were the drawbacks? Were the researches conducted did not match the policy requirements or funds misuse was found? The funding share is also present with the government which is 28% along with other stakeholders. A clearer picture regarding the dilution is still missing and must wait until the actual format is released.
Apart from these conditions, there are various schemes under SERB such as SERB-SUPRA (Scientific and Useful Profound Research Advancement) that seeks to explore new scientific breakthroughs, with long-term impact on our fundamental scientific understanding, and offer disruptive technologies at the cutting edge.
SERB-POWER (Promoting Opportunities for Women in Exploratory Research) is another program formulated to mitigate gender disparity in science and engineering research funding in various S&T programs in Indian academic institutions and R&D laboratories etc. Will these schemes get diluted or be part of the National Research Foundation (NRF) Bill 2023, this will be evident only after the proper details are released by the government.
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