The Union Cabinet has granted approval to the National Research Foundation Bill (NRF Bill), 2023, which is now scheduled to be presented during the ongoing monsoon session of Parliament. The NRF is envisioned as a centralized body with a substantial budget of ₹50,000 crore for the next five years, dedicated to funding research initiatives in India. Taking inspiration from successful models like the United States’ National Science Foundation and the European Research Council, the NRF aims to enhance research efforts by fostering greater participation from the private sector, which has been relatively limited compared to other countries.
The bill’s features include the establishment of NRF as an apex body, replacing the Science and Engineering Research Board (SERB), and expanding its mandate to cover activities beyond SERB’s scope. The NRF is a key recommendation of the National Education Policy (NEP) 2020 and is designed to act as a coordinating agency between researchers, government bodies, and industries to integrate industry into research endeavours. With a substantial budget, the NRF intends to support research infrastructure and researchers in universities, particularly State universities. The NRF’s governance will be under the Department of Science and Technology (DST) and overseen by a Governing Board. Notably, 72% of the NRF’s budget will come from the private sector, indicating a significant emphasis on private funding.
The Governing Board of the NRF will consist of the Prime Minister as the Ex-Officio President, and the Ministers of Science and Technology and Education as Ex-Officio Vice Presidents. The Executive Council, which will be led by the Principal Scientific Advisor to the Government of India, will be responsible for overseeing the operations and functioning of the NRF.
The National Research Foundation Bill 2023, aims to address the historical underinvestment in research in India by fostering collaboration between academia, government, and industry. Its introduction is expected to pave the way for significant advancements in research and development in the country. However, questions remain on how the private sector’s substantial funding can be effectively facilitated, possibly through corporate social responsibility (CSR) obligations or other incentives, to propel the nation’s research endeavours forward.
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What Is The Significance Of National Research Foundation Bill 2023?
The primary objectives of the NRF revolve around actively involving colleges and universities in scientific research. The scope of research is not limited to natural sciences but extends to encompass humanities, social sciences, and art as well. The NRF also seeks to identify crucial national priorities, such as clean energy, climate change, and sustainable infrastructure, where science and technology interventions can contribute significantly to achieving broader national goals.
To foster inclusivity, the NRF emphasizes focusing on peripheral, rural, and semi-urban areas that often receive insufficient attention. Additionally, the NRF aims to streamline funding processes, ensuring uniformity and reducing bureaucratic obstacles associated with raising funds for research initiatives. Moreover, the foundation will encourage international engagement, promoting competition and seeking solutions to the unique complexities of Indian society.
What Is The Status Of R&D In India?
- India’s research and development (R&D) expenditure is relatively low at about 0.7% of GDP, lagging behind many other countries in this regard. Over the years, there has been a decline in gross expenditure on R&D, dropping from 0.84% in 2008 to 0.69% in 2018.
- Notable institutions like the IITs (Indian Institutes of Technology) and IISc (Indian Institute of Science) receive a significant portion of research funding, while State universities receive a disproportionately small share, approximately only 10% of the research funds.
- Regarding patents, India experienced a 16.5% growth in patent grants in 2021, as reported by the World Intellectual Property Organisation (WIPO). However, the number of patent applications filed in India remains significantly lower than that of countries like China and the United States.
- The scientific community in India faces several challenges, including inconsistent funding streams, complex application processes with multiple guidelines and rules, bias towards established researchers and institutions, limited intellectual freedom due to rigid thematic constraints, and delays in decision-making caused by university bureaucracy and procedures.
Challenges Associated With National Research Foundation Bill (NRF)
- Financial Constraint: Half of the NRF’s funding relies on the private sector, which raises concerns about the government’s ability to secure Rs 36,000 crore from the industry.
- Autonomy: While involving the private industry is a positive step, there are reservations regarding the NRF board’s composition, as top positions are reserved for government officials, including the Prime Minister and the Ministers of Science, Technology, and Education.
- Timeframe: The NRF draft outlines a six-month timeframe for the peer-review process but releasing funds could be delayed due to pending financial clearance.
The approval of the National Research Foundation Bill (NRF), 2023, by the Union Cabinet marks a crucial step towards enhancing research and innovation in India’s educational and research institutions. With an estimated budget of Rs. 50,000 crores over five years, the NRF aims to promote a strong research culture in the country, bringing together academia, industries, and government departments for collaborative and impactful scientific endeavors.
The NRF’s establishment under the Department of Science and Technology (DST) and its governance by eminent researchers and professionals from various disciplines demonstrate the government’s commitment to fostering a vibrant research ecosystem. By addressing issues like unequal research funding and attracting private sector investment in research infrastructure, the NRF seeks to empower India’s scientific community and nurture skilled manpower.
Scientific research is a critical driver of a nation’s progress, and India’s vast network of science and technology institutions and highly trained manpower lay the foundation for its research potential. The NRF’s implementation is expected to streamline funding processes, reduce bureaucratic hurdles, and expedite the grant disbursement to researchers within six months, ensuring that scientists can focus on their research without administrative burdens.
What is the National Research Foundation Bill (NRF Bill), 2023?
The National Research Foundation (NRF) Bill, 2023 is a significant piece of legislation approved by the Union Cabinet, aimed at establishing the NRF as an apex body to promote and enhance research and innovation in India’s universities, colleges, research institutions, and R&D laboratories. It seeks to coordinate and strengthen collaborations between academia, industries, and government departments to drive impactful scientific research.
How will the NRF be funded, and what is the budget allocated?
The NRF will operate with a total estimated budget of Rs. 50,000 crore over the span of five years (2023-2028). Interestingly, 50% of this funding is expected to come from the private sector, emphasizing the involvement of industries in research and development endeavors. The government will contribute the remaining 50% of the budget.
What are the primary objectives of the NRF?
The NRF has several key objectives, including promoting research not only in natural sciences but also in humanities, social sciences, and art. It aims to identify priority areas like clean energy, climate change, and sustainable infrastructure to align research efforts with larger national goals. Additionally, the NRF intends to focus on peripheral, rural, and semi-urban areas that are often neglected and to streamline the funding process, reducing bureaucratic hurdles associated with research grants.
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