[Answered] How can the National Research Foundation (NRF) address the most pressing issues in Indian science and significantly improve India’s research output?

Introduction: What is NRF and what is its objective?

Body: What are the challenges faced by Indian research and science and what are suggestions to improve it?

Conclusion: Way forward.

Central Government has proposed to set up an apex body to promote, fund, and mentor scientific research in higher education institutions across the country. NRF is aligned with the aims and objectives of NEP 2020 which aims to make all higher education institutions teaching- as well as research-intensive.

What are the main issues challenging Indian science and research output?

  • Broad-based research: There is an urgent need to develop research capacities in our colleges and universities. Studies have pointed out that less than 1% of higher learning institutions were engaged in research.
  • Lack of research in social sciences: Research in India is heavily inclined toward natural sciences and there is a lack of focus on humanities, social sciences, and art. Limited sources of funding are the main reason for the lack of research in these areas.
  • Target National Objectives: NRF should address issues having national ramifications like clean energy, climate change, sustainable infrastructure, improved transportation, and accessible and affordable healthcare.
  • Funding: India’s spending on research and development has remained below 0.7 percent of its GDP, as compared to other nations like the USA, Korea, & even China where spending is 2-5% of their GDP.

How can we improve India’s research output?

  • Capacity building: NRF needs to build research capacities in colleges and universities. NRF professorships for serving or retired faculty will be a good start. NRF plans to offer doctoral and post-doctoral fellowships to young researchers in colleges and universities.
  • Focus on 3C’s: NRF should focus on humanities and arts subjects as they help in inculcating creativity, critical thinking, and communication skills (3C’s). Social sciences, Indian Languages and Knowledge Systems, Arts and Humanities are among the ten major ‘centres’ sought to be established under NRF, along with others like natural sciences, mathematics, earth sciences, and engineering.
  • Autonomy: Since NRF is modeled on the National Science Foundation of the US, the top positions will be reserved by members of the government. The need will be to allow autonomy to NRF in decision-making and some oversight from the Parliament.
  • Private Sector cooperation: Since lack of funding is major lacunae in research output there is a need for the private sector or Indian corporates to help the government in raising money so that NRF acts as a bridge between industry and government departments.
  • Prioritise areas: NRF should be sensitive towards concerns of rural areas like cleaning rivers, weather-proofing agriculture, and setting up Centres of Excellence to focus on research output aligning it with national objectives.

Conclusion:

The success of NRF in the domestic sphere can be extended to international research areas like Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory (LIGO), and International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor(ITER) but its success will finally depend on collaboration between the industry, academia, government departments, and research institutions.

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