Science ministry wary of ‘duplicating’ proposed NRF’s funding plans

Ashutosh Sharma, Secretary, DST, told The Hindu that discussions on potential overlaps were still ongoing. File Photo.  

The Department of Science and Technology (DST) has expressed concern to a Standing Committee of the Rajya Sabha regarding the structure of the proposed National Research Foundation (NRF), a body envisaged under the National Education Policy to improve the quality of research and education across colleges and universities in the country.

The NRF is planned as a major scientific funding body that will finance research projects spanning science to humanities. The DST said that while it supported the creation of an NRF, the DST and the Department of Biotechnology were already funding scientific research and so then the NRF ought to avoid “needless duplications” and focus on gap areas. This included creating research and development infrastructure and funding projects in “less endowed state universities and colleges.”

The DST has also suggested that it be exempted from contributing to the NRF. Several ministries—it is not outlined which ones—are to reportedly allot 15% of their annual budget and the DST opined that this should only be the NRF's budget for R&D. “Essentially, redistribution of the budget to the NRF, which is already being used for R&D by the DST, the DBT does not bring any additional value to overall R&D investment. This redistribution is more appropriate for the ministries/departments which are currently contributing less to extra-mural R&D support,” the DST observed.

It was responding to the Parliamentary Standing Committee of Science, Technology, Climate Change and Environment and Forests, led by Rajya Sabha member Jairam Ramesh. The committee’s report, which dealt with assessing how the DST had spent its budget last year and plans for future allocation, was laid in the House on Monday.

The NRF is yet to be approved by the Cabinet but has been tentatively earmarked ₹ 50,000 crore by Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman in her Budget speech last month.

Talks on potential overlaps

Ashutosh Sharma, Secretary, DST, told The Hindu that discussions on potential overlaps were still ongoing.

The Standing Committee, in its comments, “welcomed” the creation of the NRF but observed that the “logic of its being managed by the Ministry of Education is not very clear.” The NRF, according to a 2019 document from the Office of the Principal Scientific Advisor (PSA) to the government, is proposed to be an “autonomous body” and is to be overseen by a governing board consisting of eminent researchers and professionals. The board will have a chairperson as well president, who will report to the Prime Minister.

The Standing Committee also observed that the NRF must focus sharply on the natural sciences and it “wasn't advisable” to bringing social sciences also under its ambit and that the NRF ought to “work closely” with the science ministry to avoid duplication of efforts.

The NRF is planned to consist of 10 major Directorates – Natural Sciences; Mathematical Sciences; Engineering; Environmental and Earth Sciences; Social Sciences; Arts and Humanities; Indian Languages and Knowledge Systems; Health; Agriculture; and Innovation and Entrepreneurship and sees as one of its goals to ensure that more of India’s professors and teachers in colleges are into “knowledge creation.” Currently, the PSA document notes, less than 1% of Indi’s higher education institutions were engaged in research.

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Printable version | Apr 21, 2021 9:10:51 PM |

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