India’s investment in research unsatisfactory: UNESCO report

Gross domestic expenditure on research has stayed at 0.7% of the GDP for years

June 13, 2021 06:37 pm | Updated 08:36 pm IST - THIRUVANANTHAPURAM

Image for representation.

Image for representation.

While India has made ‘solid progress’ towards the Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) targets concerning industry, infrastructure and innovation, the country’s investment in research remains unsatisfactory, the UNESCO Science Report has observed.

The gross domestic expenditure on research (GERD) has been stagnant at 0.7% of the GDP for years, although, in absolute terms, research expenditure has increased, the chapter on India authored by Sunil Mani, director, Centre for Development Studies (CDS), Thiruvananthapuram, noted. India has one of the lowest GERD/GDP ratios among the BRICS nations, according to the report which is published every five years.

“India's research intensity has been declining since 2014. The Science and Technology Policy of 2003 fixed the threshold of devoting 2% of GDP to research and development (R&D) by 2007. This target date was set back to 2018 in the new Science, Technology and Innovation Policy (2013) then again to 2022 by the Economic Advisory Council of the Prime Minister. In 2020, the task force drafting the country’s new Science and Technology Policy recommended pushing back the target date to a more realistic 2030,” it noted.

Speaking to The Hindu , Dr. Mani said that in 1990, the density of scientists/engineers engaged in R&D in the country per 10,000 of the labour force stood at ten.

“It rose to just 11 in 2018, when it stood at 50 in China, 130 in Japan and 180 in South Korea,” he said.

R&D in the government sector has been in steady decline since 2015, whereas the share of private business enterprises in it has shot up to 42%. While in theory this is a positive trend, the R&D is focused primarily in sectors such as pharmaceuticals, automotive, and information technology. Even in these industries, it is concentrated in a small number of firms, the report said. It further noted that investment in R&D by foreign multinationals is on the rise, accounting for as much as 16% of private-sector investment in R&D in 2019.

On the bright side is the encouraging increase in scientific publications by Indian researchers on cutting-edge technologies. Total publications have risen from 80,458 in 2011 to 1.61 lakh in 2019.

“Indian researchers are publishing between 1.5 and 1.8 times the global average on smart-grid technologies, photovoltaics, biofuels and biomass and wind turbine technologies, complementing the government’s push to expand green energy sources,” the report noted.

But then again, patenting by domestic corporations, research institutes, universities and individuals remains low in India. The report noted that the majority of the software-related patents were being bagged by MNCs operating from Indian soil, while pharma patents were obtained mostly by domestic firms.

The UNESCO Science Report underscores the need for ‘policy bridges’ for fostering a more effective interaction between foreign and local research firms.

“Given the large number of multinational corporations now engaged in R&D, it is imperative that the host economy benefit from this activity,” the report said.

It also called for improved linkages between the start-up ecosystem and manufacturers to push technological development in sectors where India enjoys a global presence.

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