India is establishing a National Research Foundation (NRF) to fund, coordinate, and foster research in the country, finance minister Nirmala Sitharaman announced during her first budget presentation on July 5. The prime minister will chair the foundation.
The NRF was proposed in a draft National Education Policy developed by a panel of 80 experts. The NRF will fund academic research in science and technology, the social sciences, and the arts and humanities in line with national and state priorities, such as clean water, sanitation, and energy. It will establish research labs in oceanography, nanotechnology, and information and communication technology.
The draft National Education Policy sets the initial NRF budget at ₹200 billion (US$2.92 billion) a year, with funds assimilated from various ministries and supplemented with new government appropriations. The budget is to increase annually commensurate with inflation, with any unspent funds held in reserve for the future. However, the minister did not announce any budget allocation for the NRF, nor did she specify how NRF funds would be divided among disciplines.
India’s research and innovation investment currently is 0.68% of GDP, compared with 2.8% in the US, 2.1% in China, and 4.2% in South Korea.
Puspendu K. Das, chair of the Division of Chemical Sciences at the Indian Institute of Science (IISc), Bangalore, welcomes the proposal but says that the NRF must be independent of any ministry, otherwise current funding inefficiencies will continue. “Once the budget for a given year is decided, the entire fund should be transferred to the NRF account,” Das says.
Elangannan Arunan, a chemistry professor at IISc, questions a statement in the draft National Education Policy that “ only the government can have the perspective to drive the research that will result in innovations that will facilitate economic growth.” Calling the statement “bizarre,” Arunan says that “Most innovations that we know today have come from science, with minimal or no government input or intervention.”
Like Das, Arunan thinks it will be essential that the NRF operate independently of ministries. He notes that India’s Science and Engineering Research Board was established in 2008 with similar goals and “In the end, it did not meet the original objective.”
This story was updated on July 18, 2019, to correct the spelling of Puspendu K. Das's name.