doi:10.1038/nindia.2013.51 Published online 9 April 2013
India's new Science, Technology and Innovation (STI) Policy1 is meeting healthy criticism as academics and science policy makers seek to alter not just the basic semantics of the ambitious document but also how it outlines funding in science versus research output. The balance, they say, must now tilt towards output, primarily through the promotion of science entrepreneurship.
The policy was unveiled by Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh at the centenary celebration of the Indian Science Congress in Kolkata during January 2013. Following this, India's Department of Science & Technology (DST) proposed to conduct brainstorming sessions with stakeholders across the country for inputs on how to implement the policy effectively.
During one such brainstorming session at the Indian Academy of Sciences (IASc), Bangalore last month (15 March, 2013), the key message from science policy experts and administrators seemed to be that the national policy must promote entrepreneurship among young scientists and help create better opportunities for science education in India.
The session also called for an evaluation of science funding vis a vis research output in India and suggested that the analysis would make for a critical parameter to take a relook at the STI Policy draft.
"We should use assertive words such as 'should', 'must' or 'need' in the document instead of 'will'," said Roddam Narasimha, honorary professor at the Jawaharlal Nehru Centre for Applied Science and Research in Bangalore. That, he felt, would show more resolve on the part of the science administrators to meet the goals laid out in the document.
Narasimha said the STI policy should include discussion of venture capital in scientific research, enable faculty and scientists to set up their own commercial ventures, emphasise on product development and create a new legal regime to reward private work in education and innovation. "We need a policy that exploits the human wealth in science, technology and innovation to overcome acute shortage in innovation management and services," he said.
Start-up labs or similar business models for budding scientists is a great idea to direct young minds to meaningful science and research, according to Krishnaswamy VijayRaghavan, the newly appointed secretary to India's Department of Biotechnology (DBT). The STI policy should have an institutional mechanism to foster international, institutional and scientific collaborations to enable this, he said.
His predecessor at DBT, Maharaj Kishan Bhan, agrees that a key issue for Indian science is to find good leaders for its institutes, universities and government departments. "The STI policy should focus on leadership development as it is difficult to find leaders. There is a need to identify brilliant people for 7 to 10 year support and generous start-ups including lab establishment, "he said.
To create a new paradigm for the policy to work, India's industry leaders will have to get involved in a bigger way in academia to provide direction to the engineering and technology departments of institutes and universities, according to Narasimha.
Kandukuri Sivananda Gandhi, honorary professor at the Indian Institute of Science and a fellow of the Indian Academy of Sciences, called for a comparative analysis of funding versus scientific output to evaluate the current scenario in the country. He also felt that India needs to promote curiosity-driven research on an industrial scale to support her economy.
The two biggest hurdles for scientific research in India are the long delays between grant submission and approval and 'inordinate difficulty' in fund release, according to Shivani Agarwal, an assistant professor in the department of computer science and automation at the Indian Institute of Science.
There's no harm, she says, in encouraging institutions to raise external funding through philanthropic endowments. "The STI policy should ensure smooth and timely grant review as well as fund disbursement from the government funding agencies," Agarwal, who did not attend the session but sent in her written recommendations, urged.
In the area of science education, the STI policy must facilitate an environment that allows interdisciplinary research and focuses on improving teaching methodology at school level, Director of the Indian Institute of Science Education and Research (IISER) Pune Krishnarajanagar Nagappa Ganesh said. He also made a case for promoting post doctoral research in India through fellowships and programmes.
In terms of catching up with international excellence in science, the country should aim at catapulting at least five Indian institutes into the top 100 global list by the year 2020, according to Tiruppattur Venkatachalamurti Ramakrishnan, Emeritus Professor in the Department of Physics, Banaras Hindu University, Varanasi.
Pictures courtesy Indian Academy of Sciences, Bangalore.