Strong roots to grow STEM: Draft policy promises greater inclusion, accessible resources

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January 8, 2021 7:00 AM

The other significant thrust of the policy is making STEM education and research more inclusive.

The new draft Science, Technology and Innovation (STI) policy is expected to address this lacuna.

India has improved technical education standards by a lot—all three Indian universities that figure in the top-200 in the QS Global Rankings are science&tech-focussed higher education institutions—but the country still lags in terms of quality scientific research. Only six Indian scientists figure in a new list of top-1,000 scientists globally that was compiled by Stanford University. Among the top-10,000 researchers in science, India has only 57 compared to China’s 404 and the US’s 4,978.

The new draft Science, Technology and Innovation (STI) policy is expected to address this lacuna. An extension of the National Education Policy (NEP) 2020, the draft policy aims to put India on the path to achieve technological self-reliance and position the country among the top-three scientific superpowers in the decade to come. While the broad contours match the central tenets of the NEP 2020—for instance, it prescribes more research grants, making investments in research-focused institutions and partnering with the private sector—its vision on facilitating access to knowledge that can boost research in the country is much more expansive. Under its “One nation, one subscription” recommendation—which perhaps has no parallel globally—the government must purchase subscriptions to the top 3,000-4,000 journals and make them accessible to every institution in the country.

Right now, each institution has its own subscription, and given the high prices these command, institutes often cannot subscribe to more than a handful. The ones with lower funding, where such access to resources is most needed to improve quality and aid students, are the ones that face insurmountable paywalls. Rather than leaving each institution to fend for itself, the government will negotiate a payment mechanism with access to all institutions. Not only will this make research more accessible, it will also compel big publishers to offer better prices. The world over, universities are collaborating to get big publishers to reduce prices and make research more accessible. Besides this, the new policy draft states that the government will make libraries accessible to the general public and start an ‘ease of research’ ranking to ensure that researchers spend less time on administrative matters.

The other significant thrust of the policy is making STEM education and research more inclusive. The government plans to extend more benefits to women and LGBTQ+ individuals, to encourage their participation. The policy proposes at least 30% reservation for women in all decision-making bodies and the extension of “spousal benefits” to the partners of LGBTQ+ researchers. There is also a focus on developing indigenous technology and indigenisation of foreign technology. The government says it will enter into tie-ups with foreign universities and even rope in the diaspora to achieve this. But, the utmost priority should be accorded to tie-ups with the domestic private sector; how the government plans to achieve this will influence the success of the new policy.

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