Editor-in-Chief’s Choice: Sachin Jain / For an innovation nation

Government research grants, if provided based on merit instead of ownership, with defined objectives and outcomes, can help leverage a vast pool of research talent in private institutions that can accelerate the pace of research and innovation in India

The combined market cap of three largest IT companies of the US, Apple, Microsoft and Amazon, is equal to India’s GDP. Even if we don’t go that far, Chinese e-commerce major Alibaba’s market cap equals 20% of India’s GDP or the same as Maharashtra. In comparison, at home, there are only two companies, Reliance Industries and TCS, which are part of the $100-billion market cap club.

It’s evident that for India to become one of the top three economies in the world in the next five years, it has to transform itself from services and consumption-based economy to an innovation-led and knowledge-based economy.

While entrepreneurs will continue to find their way through the complex maze to identify the next set of opportunities that will turn the current business models upside down, the government and policymakers have a key role to play both in supporting entrepreneurs and creating an environment that fosters research and innovation.

Though the US has always been the epitome of research and innovation, China embarked on this journey just a decade ago and has already started reaping great dividends. China is ranked 17th in the Global Innovation Index versus 57th rank for India. China’s share in international patent filings is at 21%, compared to less than 1% from India.

NITI Aayog, in its Vision 2030 report, highlighted the dismal state of research in India. As compared to 2% of GDP spends on research and 1,113 research professionals per one million population in China, India spends 0.7% of GDP with just 218 research professionals per one million. While in US and China, only 30% of spending on research is done by the government, the situation in India is opposite, where 75% of spending is done by the government.

Given that it’s virtually impossible for India to raise public expenditure for research to China levels, it is vital to incentivize private sector to increase investments on research and innovation either in-house or through collaboration with research institutions.

The government spends Rs.37,000 crore, or 1% of GDP, every year on higher education, the large part of which is spent to support operating expenditure at central or state universities.

While the current government has taken some progressive steps in instilling fiscal accountability among public institutions to manage their operating expenditure independent of government support, a reallocation of a portion of government grants from operating grants to research will result in asset formation that will give rich dividends to institutions and government in the long run.

Similarly, successive governments have promoted private participation in higher education that has resulted in more than 340 private universities in India catering to more than 70% of total enrolments in higher education.

However, there has been a consistent policy bias towards private universities when it comes to government support in research and development despite some of the private universities breaking into the top rankings, be it the National Institutional Ranking Framework (NIRF) or QS World University or Times Higher Education rankings.

Government research grants, be it through ministries or Higher Education Financing Agency (Hefa), if provided based on merit instead of ownership with defined objectives and outcomes, can help leverage a vast pool of research talent in private institutions that can accelerate the pace of research and innovation in India.

Application of research outcomes is equally important. While higher education institutions are meant for creation of knowledge, a handshake with industry is equally important for application of such knowledge in real world. The National Assessment and Accreditation Council and NIRF have created a data-backed objective assessment and ranking framework with a clear focus on research.

However, the dismally low number of patents granted to Indian universities suggests some tweaks in the definition of research is required so that the research is not just academic but also has real-world applications. Societies like Fraunhofer in Germany have evolved as the critical missing link between industry and academia when it comes to applied research, and a similar model should be adopted in India to foster industry-academia partnership.

Before the dust settles on the elections, policymakers must start focusing on fostering innovation that will lead to reversal of brain drain, job creation and FDI in Indian startups. A separate department at the central and state levels as a nodal office to drive research and innovation along with systemic changes to include private participation on the lines of minimum government maximum governance can help India become a $5-trillion economy in the next five years.

(The writer is president, Bennett University) https://economictimes.indiatimes.com/blogs/et-commentary/for-an-innovation-nation/
Disclaimer: Views expressedabove are the author’sown.

By Dr (Col.) A. Balasubramanian