The Prime Minister’s Fellowship Scheme (PMFS) for Doctoral Research has been around since 2012—the PPP scheme, a partnership between the Science and Engineering Research Board and the Confederation of Indian Industries, was renamed as PMFS and launched at the AICTE-CII University-Industry Congress & 4th Global Higher Education Summit held in November that year. But it is only after the finance minister’s Budget speech this year that the scheme shot into prominence, with the finance minister saying that 1,000 engineering graduate and post-graduate students in their final year at premier engineering institutes will be selected under the scheme to pursue doctoral research at the IITs and the IISc. The students will receive Rs 70,000 per month as stipend in the first two years, Rs 75,000 in the third year and Rs 80,000 in the fourth and fifth year of the programme. Apart from this, each fellow will be given a Rs 2 lakh research grant to cover costs of travel related to research and presentation of papers. For perspective, the grant to doctoral researchers under the Senior Research Fellowship (SRF) stands at nearly Rs 40,000 a month. With such a handsome stipend structure, PMFS is sure to attract the finest engineering brains in the country to pursue research, reaping a rich R&D dividend for the country.
India’s Rs 1,650 crore outlay (over seven years) for the programme is certainly a sea-change from the past, one that will help stem the ‘brain drain’ phenomenon. But India’s allocations towards research are still a fraction of pale allocations abroad. India’s annual allocations for science research have doggedly remained under less than 1% of its GDP for over a decade. The total national spend on R&D is estimated to have reached `1.04 lakh crore ($15.5 billion) in FY17. This was mainly driven by the government, with the Centre accounting for 45.1 % of the expenditure, followed by the state governments (7.4 %), public sector industries (5.5 %) and institutions of higher education (3.9 %). The private sector accounted for the remaining 38.1%. In contrast, in the US, the federal government footed 44% of the $86 billion expense incurred on basic science research in the country in 2015—and that’s after this share has fallen from above 70% in the 1960s and 1970s.
Rising private sector contribution to R&D spend is encouraging, though. This means R&D is more likely to be directed by market requirements. The PMFS, however, is a good example of PPP in R&D—under the scheme, half of the scholarship comes from the government and the remainder from a partner company under the CII aegis working closely with the researcher on the project. There were just 79 PMFS fellows in the first three years of the scheme, but the Centre’s latest