National Research Foundation (NRF) Bill, 2023

Context: Recently, the Union Cabinet approved the National Research Foundation (NRF) Bill, 2023.
Probable Question: Q. Discuss the key provision of the National Research Foundation (NRF) Bill and its significance in promoting Research and Development in India. Highlight the challenges faced by the R&D sector in India and suggest measures to overcome them.
 Key Provisions of National Research Foundation (NRF) Bill:
  • To establish the NRF as an apex body for providing high-level strategic direction to scientific research as envisaged under the National Education Policy (NEP).
  • It proposes to absorb the Science and Engineering Research Board (SERB) in NRF.
About Science and Engineering Research Board (SERB):
  • The SERB is the Department of Science and Technology’s (DST) main funding body and is responsible for funding S&T start-ups, setting up incubators and funding science-related projects in central and state universities
 Need of the Bill:
  • To Correct the Skewed Funding: Presently, institutions like the IITs and IISc get a bulk of research funding but State universities get very little, about 10% of the research funds.
  • Fragmented R&D ecosystem characterised by limited collaboration: India lacks synergy and coordination between the government, public institutions, and private organisations.
    • This fragmentation results in duplicated efforts, inefficient use of resources, and missed opportunities for interdisciplinary research.
  •  Lack of Uniformity: There has also been a lack of uniformity in the funding of scientific research.
India’s Status of Spending on Research and Development vis-i-vis World:
Country Gross Expenditure on R&D (% of GDP)
India 0.7%
United States (US) 2.83%
China 2.14%
Israel 4.9%
 Need for Research and Development:
  • Driving Productivity and Economic Growth: By investing in R&D, countries can develop new technologies and improve existing processes, leading to enhanced resource efficiency and overall economic growth.
  • Promoting Low-Cost Indigenous Solutions: It allows for the creation of tailored solutions that are cost-effective and easily accessible to the Indian population. For Example: Development of affordable solutions like the Jaipur Foot.
  • Enhancing Learning Outcomes: A strong research culture in higher education institutions contributes to an enhanced teaching and learning experience.
  • Reducing Dependency on Imports: Investing in R&D helps reduce dependence on imported high-end technologies, thereby lowering the import bill and decreasing the fiscal deficit.
    • By developing indigenous technologies, countries can achieve self-sufficiency and promote domestic industries
  • Combating Climate Change: R&D plays a vital role in creating solutions such as low-cost solar panels, electric vehicles (EVs), and lithium batteries, which help reduce greenhouse gas emissions and combat climate change.
Challenges Faced by the R&D Sector:
  • Low investment in R&D: The funding in R&D is less than 1% of the GDP. Further there are no extra provisions for R&D in the sunrise sectors.
    • The corporate sector accounts for about two-thirds of gross domestic expenditure on R&D (GERD) in leading economies, its share in India is just 37%. 
  • Insufficient Skilled Workforce: Inadequate number of researchers in India compared to China (253 researchers per million inhabitants in India vs. 1,225 in China)
  • Ongoing Challenges in Education System: Only 2.7% Colleges run Ph.D. programmes and 35.04% Colleges run Post Graduate Level programmes.
  • Excessive Bureaucracy in Public Institutions: In India, education is highly centralised, resulting in limited autonomy for most institutions. Excessive government interference hampers scientific progress and creates disincentives in an already struggling environment.
  • Socio-Cultural Challenges in R&D: Sociocultural barriers, especially for women, restrict participation in R&D activities. E.g. The share of female researchers in India was only 18.7% in 2018.
  • Capacity constraints in the Indian Patent Office: As of March 2022, the Indian Patent Office faced a significant shortage of patent examiners and controllers.
    • With only 860 personnel in these roles, it pales in comparison to China’s 13,704 and the US’s 8,132 examiners and controllers.
Initiatives Taken by Government to Promote R& D: VAJRA Faculty Scheme:
  • The Department of Science and Technology has launched the Visiting Advanced Joint Research (VAJRA) Faculty Scheme.
  • Aim: To bring overseas scientists and academicians including Non-resident Indians (NRI) and Overseas Citizen of India (OCI) to India.
IMPacting Research, Innovation and Technology (IMPRINT):
  • Launched in 2015 as a collaboration between IITs and IISc.
  • Aim: To focus on providing solutions to engineering challenges in 10 selected technology domains.
Atal Tinkering Labs:
  • Initiative by Niti Aayog’s Atal Innovation Mission.
  • Aim: To foster creativity, curiosity, and skills such as design mindset and computational thinking in young minds.
IPR Laws:
  • India is a signatory to the WTO Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS) agreement.
 Way Forward: 
  • Boost R&D Funding: It is crucial for India to increase its R&D investments to a minimum of 2% of GDP by 2030 for promoting greater private sector participation and investment in research and development.
  • Utilising NRF Commitment: Utilise the committed amount of Rs 50,000 crore to address the deficits in grants provided to autonomous universities and institutions by agencies like CSIR and DST.
  • Improving Information Sharing: Create a centralised virtual platform to consolidate information on projects granted with public funding, facilitating better information sharing among stakeholders.
  • Enhancing Research Capacity: Facilitate training opportunities for Indian students and scientists at the doctoral and postdoctoral levels by providing better remuneration and incentives.
  • Ensuring IPR Compliance: Ensure proper adherence to the National Intellectual Property Rights (IPR) policy of 2016 to build investor confidence and attract more investment in R&D.
  • Promoting Government-Industry-Academia Partnership: Encourage partnerships between the government, industry, and academia to support the R&D ecosystem in India.
Additional Information: About National Research Foundation:
  • The creation of NRF was envisaged in the National Education Policy 2020.
  • Estimated Budgetary Outlay: ₹50,000 crore 
    • Scientific research projects under the NRF would be funded by the DST and industry on a 50:50 basis.
  • Time Period: 2023 – 2028.
  • Governance Structure:
    • The NRF’s functioning will be governed by an Executive Council chaired by the Principal Scientific Adviser to the Government of India.
    • Administrative Department: The NRF would be administratively housed in the Department of Science and Technology (DST).
    • Governing Board: It would have a 16-member governing board with two members from DST, five from industry, one from humanities and six experts who would be selected depending on the nature of the project being evaluated.
    • The Prime Minister will be the ex-officio president of the Governing board and the Minister of Science and Technology and the Minister of Education will be the ex-officio vice presidents. 
    • The NRF’s functioning will be governed by an executive council chaired by the Principal Scientific Advisor to the Government of India.
  • Functions:
    • To forge collaborations among the industry, academia, and government departments and research institutions
    • To create an interface mechanism for participation and contribution of industries and State governments in addition to the scientific and line ministries.
    • To focus on creating a policy framework and putting in place regulatory processes that can encourage collaboration and increased spending by the industry on R&D.

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