Private funding not good for fundamental research: INSA
doi:10.1038/nindia.2015.166 Published online 15 December 2015
The Indian National Science Academy (INSA) in New Delhi has cautioned that the government's "new emphasis on getting more and more research grants from industry may not augur well for the overall quality of research in the country."
The warning by the apex body of Indian scientists — through an editorial1 in its journal — is a reaction to the government's direction to research institutions to take up “socially relevant” research and seek support for their activities from industries rather than continue to rely on governmental support.
This is an "unprecedented governmental order”, the editorial by Subhash Lakhotia said adding the move cannot lead to "long-term" technological advances and instead will act as a disincentive for "curiosity driven basic research essential for training young minds so that they develop scientific temperament."
The journal said it is a misconception that the country can do without enough investment in basic research. "By asking our scientists to primarily undertake applied and socially relevant research, are we not negating the inherent curiosity of a researcher?" it asked.
The journal said the basic premise for the government's move seems to be that it will lead to greater participation of industries in promoting and utilising indigenous research and at the same time "force" the scientific community to involve itself in industry-funded “socially relevant” research whose outcome will have direct commercial benefits for the industry. INSA said that while these objectives are good, the scientists, the industry and the society in general may not be prepared for this paradigm shift.
"While there are upward trends in research in India, these are limited to a few scattered institutions," the journal said. "The large majority remain far below the threshold." The situation with industrial or applied research is no better, it said, adding that most of India's industries have not seriously engaged themselves in active R&D activities and a major share of industrial production continues to be based on imported hardware and technology. Much of the indigenous innovation is “jugaad” (frugal innovation) with poor quality control.
Given the existing vicious circle of poor demand, poor faith and poor incentives for industry as well as scientists, industry is unlikely to support long-term innovative research programmes which have high initial stakes without a guarantee of success. "In the existing situation, the industrial support for research is more likely to be for short-term ad hoc issues, which cannot lead to significant long-term technological advances," it said. "Besides, industry-driven research carries the risk of the outcomes being tailor-made."
The editorial concluded that unless the quality of basic research in all spheres improves, "socially relevant” research would continue to lack innovation, originality and, therefore, utility. What is needed is "a good balance" in government and industry funding for research.