By Preeta George
The Covid-19 pandemic has led to increased awareness on research, and India must now pave a new research-based path to the post-pandemic road to economic growth. The research journey, until now, has not been an encouraging one for India. According to the World Development Indicators published by the World Bank, India spends barely 0.69% of GDP on research, whereas Germany, the US, China and Japan spend 3%, 2.8%, 2% and 3.2%, respectively, of their GDP on research.
Low incomes, poor health and sanitation, food shortage and market inaccessibility on account of poor infrastructure provide a strong case for an increased emphasis on research in India.
In addition, according to the World Intellectual Property Organisation (WIPO), bulk of the research spend in India is driven by the central government (accounting for 45.5% of the total R&D spend). Another 41.4% is attributed to industry. The rest constitutes spends of the higher education sector and the state governments. Roughly 61.4% of the central government’s research expenditure is in the area of defence, atomic energy and space. This proves that R&D in India is not only inadequate, but also lopsided.
India has also poorly performed in having patents to its credit. According to the WIPO, of the total 50,000 patent applications of India, about 70% are by non-residents. When you compare this to China’s 1.5 million applications (a whopping 90% by residents) and the US’s 600,000 applications (nearly half by residents), it speaks volumes about India’s poor relative position in R&D.
The key reasons for this abysmal performance are inadequate involvement of industry and the higher education sector, as well as lack of collaboration between these entities and the government in actively promoting R&D. Lack of funding and a low risk appetite, combined with a short-term rather than a long-term vision, are all more or less equal suspects in contributing to R&D insufficiency in India.
The National Education Policy (NEP) 2020 report released by the government recently provides for some light at the end of the tunnel. The first noteworthy point is that the NEP provides for a research ecosystem under the stewardship of the National Research Fund (NRF). It aims at providing the required impetus to grow the R&D agenda by way of building a research ecosystem comprising the government, universities, research institutes and industry. According to the NEP, “the NRF will work towards seeding, funding, coordinating, and monitoring research and innovation initiatives.” It will also encourage research through merit-based peer evaluation of research projects along with incentives like awards for outstanding work.
The collaboration between academia and industry envisioned by the NEP calls for a patent policy structure at the university level to facilitate more patent applications. Such a policy will safeguard interests of all the entities involved, provide for a research environment, and ensure compliance with the national laws and regulations. A larger number of patents with commercial benefits will serve as incentives for continuous and sustained efforts in research.
A final aspect to consider is that the NEP emphasises a multidisciplinary approach in education and the need to nurture a curious and creative mind with a view to develop analytical and critical thinking abilities at an early age. These are the skills essential for framing the right research questions and for bringing about the required and relevant outcomes/solutions. This approach will, therefore, be instrumental in giving a meaningful thrust to research and innovation serving as yet another significant harbinger in the long-term and sustainable research endeavour for India.
The author is professor of Economics at Bhavan’s SPJIMR. Views are personal