Re-examine proposal to draw funding from private sector for National Research Foundation, say scientists

The All India People’s Science Network has launched a signature campaign demanding that the Union government remit the National Research Foundation Bill, to a Parliamentary standing committee

Published - July 24, 2023 12:23 pm IST - CHENNAI 

Photograph used for representational purposes only

Photograph used for representational purposes only

A group of researchers and scientists the All India People’s Science Network (AIPSN), has demanded that the Central government re-examine its proposal to privatise research funding under the National Research Foundation Bill, 2023.

It has called for “a thorough open scrutiny by the scientific community” on this proposal. The researchers are concerned about the centralisation of funding, lack of academic oversight and the proposal’s not addressing existing structural problems.

The AIPSN has launched a signature campaign demanding that the Union government remit the National Research Foundation Bill to a Parliamentary standing committee on Science and Technology, Environment and Forests, for a comprehensive assessment. The committee should invite development authorities, line departments of the Central and State governments, representatives of organisations working with the scientific community and individuals to submit their views on the Bill, it said.

The AIPSN said the NRF Bill sought to replace the Science and Engineering Board Act, 2009 by establishing an entity that would depend on corporates, philanthropic bodies and international foundations for funds, instead of public funds. The Prime Minister, as the ex-officio president and the Union Ministers of Science and Technology and Education as ex-officio vice presidents, would control the direction of academic research across disciplines and domains of application, the network said.

Besides, the original rationale of the NRF was to redirect the flow of funds to State universities to strengthen them as academic institutions, the researchers pointed out.

In the five-year allocation of ₹50,000 crore for research and development through the NRF, the private sector would fund as much as 72% as per the proposal, and the process for this is yet to be identified, they pointed out. “In the current proposal only corporates and elite institutions with access to power centres will have an edge,” the network said.

Only 1% of higher education institutions engage in active research. Also, India spent only 0.65% of its GDP on R&D in 2022 as against 0.8% at the start of the 2000s. The percentage of full-time equivalent researchers fell from 39.96% in 2015 to 36.48% in 2018. Fewer researchers are now employed in the public-funded research sector, they pointed out: this number fell from 30.32% in 2015 to 23.13% in 2018.

The network called for more qualified teachers and researchers to be given permanent posts in the public sector. Rampant feudalism, gender and caste-based oppression and lack of a culture of collaboration are obstacles to the climate for research and innovation in India, the group said.

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