CSIR plans campuses in Africa, Asia

K. S. Jayaraman

doi:10.1038/nindia.2012.23 Published online 22 February 2012

Having acquired the status of a deemed university, India's Council of Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) plans to award 1200 Ph.D and 2000 post graduate science degrees annually beginning this year to boost scientific manpower.

The country's largest scientific agency has also announced plans to "create an international network" with campuses in Africa and Asia by 2022 when the CSIR, founded by Shanti Swarup Bhatnagar, turns 80 and "India would have become the third most economically powerful country in the world."

This and many other grand plans are listed in the vision document "CSIR@80" that says the agency is embarking on "a mission to build a new CSIR for a new India by reinventing itself completely." The key driver for R&D focus of CSIR, it says, will be national goals such as affordable healthcare and sustainable energy.

CSIR's new mantra, according to its vision document, is to "pursue science which strives for global impact; technology that enables innovation-driven industry; and nurture trans-disciplinary leadership thereby catalysing inclusive economic development for the people of India."

The vision document says that CSIR, in the next decade, will spin-off 50 companies, create 12 innovation complexes and five new research areas. Its scientists will publish every month "one exceptional publication of global impact," transfer every year 10 major cutting-edge technologies for commercialization, and introduce every year "one game changing technology solution that impacts the lives of millions."

CSIR "will continue to maintain the largest patent portfolio in the country", nurture human resource and trans-disciplinary leadership, facilitate start-up/spin-off companies using knowledge as equity, and catalyse innovation to benefit over 250,000 micro, small and medium enterprises. One million people per year are expected to benefit from CSIR projects on health, sanitation and more.

Other promises made under the new vision include "transformation" of old CSIR institutions, creation of "new connected institutions," and establishment of "hubs of scientific excellence." The new CSIR will attract the best minds, mentor young researchers, and create "large government-owned and professionally managed facilities."

The vision has been developed through the involvement of stakeholders and scientists across CSIR under young leadership, the document says adding that the CSIR henceforth "should seek to be measured by outcomes rather than outputs such as publications, citations and patents."

The document admits a "paradigm shift" in the roadmap is needed to achieve these goals. For instance, the CSIR should think of changing "from being a follower to a leader; from research for publication to publications from research; from supporting companies to creating companies; from collaboration to co-creation; and from individual-centric to team-centric."

A section of scientists and analysts, however, is skeptical of CSIR's grand plans. Pushpa Bhargava, former director of a CSIR institute who claims to be the only surviving member of the CSIR family watching it from close quarters since 1950, says a vision document such as this would have no meaning if it doesn't state the precise actionable steps in a stipulated time frame.

Bhargava says the CSIR document only states the goals without mentioning the desirable changes that it would bring about in its present incarnation. "For instance one could ask as to what percentage of patents taken out by CSIR have been actually commercialized in the last 20 years."

Policy analyst and professor at the Banaras Hindu university Subhash Lakhotia also says a vision document should suggest a roadmap to achieve the targets. "However, I do not find any roadmap or strategies that would help achieve the lofty targets in this document", he says.

The vision is "perhaps a little too ambitious", Lakhotia notes. "It would be satisfying even if 50% of the targets are achieved in the next 10 years," he adds.