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Supporting India’s tech growth

To catch up to global competitors, the collective and cohesive working of four key stakeholders in the technology ecosystem—industry, academia, R&D labs, and startups, i.e. the ‘National Research Quad’, is essential.

Supporting India’s tech growth
To catch up with the pace of technology development, innovation, and research worldwide, we must set a national goal of investment of 4% of GDP in R&D by 2047, with an interim goal of at least 2.5% by 2030. (IE)

Accelerated technology development is a feature of the post-Covid world and any country that aims at global leadership must also aim at technology leadership. In today’s geopolitical environment, self-reliance in cutting edge technology is important. India already has a leadership position in digitisation, especially in areas like finance, governance, and delivery of public services. However, India’s investment in R&D has stagnated over the last 40 years at around 0.7% of its GDP, significantly lower than the global average of 1.5% of GDP spent by the top 10 economies. India’s private sector R&D spending too is low.

To catch up with the pace of technology development, innovation, and research worldwide, we must set a national goal of investment of 4% of GDP in R&D by 2047, with an interim goal of at least 2.5% by 2030. In absolute terms, India’s investment in R&D is $48 billion per annum, making it the seventh highest spender on R&D. However, a lot more needs to be done in terms of the translation of scientific research to commercialisation. India has been ranked 46th by the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) in the Global Innovation Index (GII) 2021 rankings, which implies that the country must work more aggressively if it is to reach the top 20 by 2030.

The need of the hour is therefore the collective and cohesive working of four key stakeholders in the technology ecosystem—industry, academia, R&D labs, and startups, referred to as the ‘National Research Quad’. Support from the government, especially financial, is critical to the success of the quad. We must measure impact by outcomes beneficial to society.

Academia is the bedrock of innovation and knowledge creation. India added 24,000 new doctorates in 2020 and ranks third in scientific papers output. In the first quarter of 2022, for the first time, the number of domestic patent filing has surpassed the number of international patent filing at the Indian patent office. These numbers validate the scientific progress being made by our academic institutions. However, the challenges remain in terms of quality, alignment with industry needs, academia-industry linkages, and eventual commercialisation of research.

India’s publicly-funded R&D institutions account for over 50% of national R&D spending. These institutions are home to new knowledge creation with a strong emphasis on addressing socio-economic problems, but the outcomes are low. The need is to seamlessly collaborate these labs with the Quad ecosystem, which will ensure impact-driven research.

Indian industry is the backbone of the fastest growing large economy of the world and has the potential to revolutionise and bring in a technology movement. Here, the key concern is R&D contribution by the private sector, less than 40% of the national GDP. This is in contrast to the global average of over 70%, especially in developed economies. It is important for industry to scale up investing in R&D and initiate collaboration through sponsorship research with the other pillars of the Quad, supported by policy and funding from the Centre.

Lastly, India has the third-largest startup ecosystem and is home to the fastest-growing unicorns. Startups are very important as they are a source of new ideas and technologies. However, they face challenges in terms of lack of market access and sub-optimal support from the other members of the Quad. To overcome this, it is important that every startup must leverage innovation from academia and R&D labs as an integral part of their game plan. Support from industry and government is crucial.

If the National Research Quad works in unison, the national R&D goals will be achievable. Some actions are required for this. First, National Quad research programs may be launched with equal contribution by industry and academia or R&D labs. Startups should enable disruptive technology development. Second, academic institutions and R&D labs must focus on conducting research at higher technology readiness levels while addressing industry-centric and socially relevant problems. Third, creating joint centres of excellence on research for critical technologies involving all four pillars of the Quad with government support is required. Fourth, industry and academia must work in public-private partnership models to boost R&D. One of the successful examples is the country’s first Graphene Innovation Centre, a joint venture of Digital University of Kerala, Centre for Materials for Electronics Technology (C-MET), and Tata Steel Limited. Finally, research funds should be appropriately channelised so that the industry succeeds in ramping up R&D investment, and academia / R&D labs achieve measurable outcomes with the involvement of startups.

A seamless and collaborative National Research Quad will enable a dynamic ecosystem. Private-public partnerships must be aligned with the national goals and industrial programmes taking cues from successful global models such as Canada´s Strategic Network Grants, Germany´s Innovation Alliances, Israel´s Magnet Consortium, Fraunhofer model, and France´s Strategic Industrial Innovation Programme. The time is opportune to collectively harness the strengths of all the four pillars of Quad and quickly take India to the next level of technology and innovation leadership.

The writer is Chairman, CII National Mission on Technology, Innovation and Research, and former MD & CEO, Ashok Leyland and JCB India.

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