With its promise of generating employment and addressing major national challenges of energy and food security, the environment, nutrition and affordable healthcare, scientific innovation will be the focus of the new science, technology and innovation (STI) policy announced by Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh last week.
The new STI policy, which sets out national goals and priorities, and a roadmap for achieving them, was cleared by the cabinet on 26 December and made public on 3 January by the prime minister at the centenary session of the annual Indian Science Congress in Kolkata.
In what Singh called “an ambitious goal”, the policy calls for a doubling of investment in science in the next five years, to establish India among the top five nations in terms of output in scientific publications by the end of the decade.
Science-led innovation is the key to development, Singh said in Kolkata.
The science policy “aims to produce and nurture talent in science, to stimulate research in our universities, to develop young leaders in the field of science, to reward performance, to create a policy environment for greater private sector participation in research and innovation and to forge international alliances and collaborations to meet the national agenda,” Singh said.
At present, India invests some US$12 billion annually on science and technology – about one-third of this coming from industry – or a total of about 1% of the gross domestic product (GDP). The new science policy aims to raise that figure to 2% of GDP by 2017 with active private participation.
A recent independent survey commissioned by the department of science and technology suggested diversifying research funding rather than concentrating on traditional areas of funding such as agriculture and tropical medicine.
The policy document identified critical areas for research and development including agriculture, telecommunications, energy, water management, drug discovery, material science including nanotechnology, climate change, and space technology. It also recommended a focus on interdisciplinary research.
The lion’s share of funding will be allocated to the department of space, which is planning nearly 60 missions to Mars in the next five years.
But the policy also highlights the establishment of several new research institutes, in the areas of biotechnology, Earth and atmospheric sciences and life sciences.
Indian research facilities slated for increased funding under the policy include a US$250 million Neutrino Observatory for particle physics in India’s Southern Tamil Nadu state.
India has expanded its research infrastructure by establishing five new Indian institutes of science education and research, eight new Indian institutes of technology, 16 new central universities, 10 new national institutes of technology, six new research and development institutions in the field of biotechnology, and five institutions in other branches including biomimetic materials and solar energy.
A previous science policy, unveiled in 2003, did not mention innovation. The new STI policy, drawn up with inputs from some 4,500 experts, states: “Today innovation is no longer a mere appendage to science and technology but has assumed centre stage in the developmental goals of countries around the world.
"New paradigms of innovation have emerged and systems that foster innovation are not universal. They have become country and context specific.”
“The focus on innovation in the new policy is welcome, especially for creating employment,” said Deepak Pental, a professor of genetics and a former vice-chancellor of Delhi University.
“Universities and research institutions in India need to realign their curriculum to this policy and enable students to think and act scientifically. We should equip students to innovate, and create employment and solutions in key areas,” Pental told University World News.
The government aims to increase research and development contributions by the corporate sector by five times, from the current levels to 1% of GDP, by promoting public-private partnerships. Up to 15% of the funding under the new policy will be earmarked for developing these partnerships.
Nurturing human resources
The government will seek to increase the number of full-time research and development personnel by two-thirds, from 154,000 to 250,000, within five years, and the number of PhDs produced in India from 8,900 to 12,500 a year.
Stressing the importance of nurturing scientists, the prime minister said: "the quality of our scientific institutions will depend upon the quality of the students we can attract into science, the freedom we give them in pursuing scientific research, and the human resource policies we follow in selecting leaders.
“We must select only the best and we must expand our search to the many Indian scientists abroad."
To encourage quality research among students, faculty and researchers, the new policy aims to put in place a Performance Related Incentive Scheme (PRIS), to track individuals' research performance based on past and proven track record to enable grant-based investments in such performers.
Publication in scientific journals by Indian researchers should increase to around 5% of publications globally by 2017, compared to around 3.5% currently, pushing India from ninth in the world in terms of scientific publications to around fifth.
Acknowledging that research in modern sciences is resource intensive, the policy puts an emphasis on international collaboration.
Singh cited two examples of India’s “outstanding” international collaboration: Indian collaboration with the European Centre for Nuclear Research (CERN) in Switzerland on the Large Hadron Collider, which led to the discovery of what is believed to be the elusive Higgs boson; and India’s work with a select group of countries on the International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor, an international nuclear fusion research project in France.
Officials said there would also be a determined push for Indian scientists to participate in the Square Kilometre Array – the world’s most powerful radio telescope being built in Australia and South Africa – and in a proposed Thirty Metre Telescope in Hawaii.
Bilaterally, joint research and higher education partnerships between the UK and India have substantially increased over the past five years and countries such as the US, Germany and Canada have deepened research links with India.
More recently, Russia announced it would fund 500 young Indian researchers each year for postdoctoral fellowships, thus joining a growing list of countries tapping India’s talent to make up for their own shortages in scientific manpower.
The Department of Science and Technology will be establishing a policy implementation group to put the proposals into practice within the next two years, officials said.
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