Improve the culture of research, suggests Economic Survey 2017-18

Indian science and research institutes need to inculcate less hierarchical governance systems, mentions the National Economic Survey 2017-18 tabled in the parliament on 29th January

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New Delhi: The union government is all set to present the much-awaited budget 2018 on 1st February. As a precursor to the day, the National Economic Survey was tabled in the Parliament on 28th January. A flagship annual document of the Ministry of Finance, Government of India, Economic Survey 2017-18 reviews the developments in the Indian economy over the previous 12 months, summarizes the performance on major development programmes, and highlights the policy initiatives of the government and the prospects.

The Economic Survey 2017-18 bats for a mission-driven approach to research and development (R&D). It notes that India has the potential to be a global leader outright in a number of areas if it is willing to invest. However, according to it, this will require a deliberate focus in a few key areas.

Increase funding for research from the private sector as well as from state governments

As per Survey, the private sector should be incentivized to both undertake more R&D but to also support STEM research through CSR funds. Current tax law already favors CSR investment into R&D, but the types of R&D activities eligible can be expanded. Government can also work with the private sector to create new R&D funding opportunities which are also in line with private sector interests. Efforts like the 50:50 partnership with SERB for industry-relevant research under the Ucchatar Avishkar Yojana (UAY) is a good example of what could help make such partnerships fruitful.

State governments too need to recognize the need to invest in application-oriented research aimed at problems specific to their economies and populations. This would both strengthen state universities as well as provide much-needed knowledge in areas such as crops, ecology and

Leverage scientific diaspora 

According to Survey, there are more than 100,000 people with PhDs, who were born in India but are now living and working outside India (more than 91,000 in the U.S. alone). From 2003 to 2013, while the number of scientists and engineers residing in the US rose from 21.6 million to 29 million, the number of immigrant scientists and engineers went from 3.4 million to 5.2 million. Of this, the number from India increased from just above half million in 2003 to 950,000 in 2013.

Improve the culture of research

Indian science and research institutes need to inculcate less hierarchical governance systems, that are less beholden to science administrators and encourage risk-taking and curiosity in the pursuit of excellence. While the age of peak productivity of scientists has shifted upwards over the 20th century, it is still less than fifty. Great achievements in the sciences decline after middle age, and youth, conceptual achievement, and scientific revolutions are linked (Jones et. al.
2014). Hence it is imperative that there be greater representation of younger scientists in decisionmaking bodies in their areas of expertise.

R&D expenditures increase modestly 

Investments in Indian science, measured in terms of Gross Expenditure on R&D (GERD), have shown a consistently increasing trend over the years. GERD has tripled in the last decade in nominal terms – from Rs. 24,117 crores in 2004-05 to Rs 85,326 crores in 2014-15 and estimated Rs 1,04,864 crores in 2016-17 – and double in real terms. However, as a fraction of GDP, public expenditures on research have been stagnant – between 0.6-0.7 percent of GDP – over the past two decades. Public expenditure is dominant, although its share has come down
from three-fourths of all expenditures to about three-fifths.