State of Science research

Context: The Union Cabinet, chaired by the Prime Minister Shri Narendra Modi, approved the introduction of the National Research Foundation (NRF) Bill, 2023 in the Parliament.

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Status of research in India

  • In response to a Parliament question in March, the government said India’s total expenditure on R&D in purchasing power parity (PPP) terms in 2018 — about US$ 68 billion — was the sixth highest in the world, after the US, China, Japan, Germany and South Korea. 
  • According to the Department of Science and Technology (DST), there were 7,888 R&D institutions in the country in 2021, including more than 5,200 units in the private sector and industries, which engage mainly in industry-specific research. 
  • According to DST data, about 94 per cent of the Indians (34,241 out of 36,565) who obtained a doctorate at a US university between 2001 and 2020 did so in science and engineering disciplines, second only to China.
  • India produced 25,550 doctorates in 2020-21, of which 14,983 were in science and engineering disciplines. This 59 per cent proportion in the overall doctorates compares well with other countries, putting India in the seventh rank overall. 
  • Even in absolute terms, India’s annual output of science and engineering doctorates is right at the top, with only the US, China and the United Kingdom producing more.

Source Indian Express

Problem of research in India

Problem of funding 

  • The expenditure on research as a proportion of GDP has gone down, from about 0.8 per cent at the start of this millennium to about 0.65 per cent now. For the last decade or so, this share has remained stagnant.
  • The spending on research has more than tripled in the last 15 years, from Rs 39,437 crore in 2007-08 to over 1.27 lakh crore in 2020-21. But India’s GDP has grown faster, and so the share of research has gone down. Unlike India, at the global level, growth in Research & Development (R&D) expenditure has outpaced GDP growth.
  • At least 37 countries spent more than 1 per cent of their GDP on R&D in 2018, the last year for which data from all countries is available, according to the 2021 UNESCO Science Report.
  • India spent only 42 US dollars (in PPP terms) per researcher in 2020, compared with nearly 2,150 by Israel, 2,180 by South Korea and 2,183 by the United States.

Problem of research in universities 

  • Only one per cent of universities engage in active research, according to the detailed project report on NRF.
  • Aside from basic research, due to minimal interaction between departments, there is a lack of interdisciplinary education and research in the universities.
  • Lack of collaborative research between academia and industries resulting in products with no commercial utility and public utility.

Problem in outcome of research 

  • The number of researchers per million population in India, 262, is extremely low compared with even developing countries like Brazil (888), South Africa (484) or Mexico (349).
  • Data from DST showed that Indian researchers published 149,213 articles in science and engineering journals across the world in 2020, almost two and a half times more than a decade earlier. However, it still constituted only 5 per cent of all the articles. Chinese researchers contributed 23 per cent, while US researchers accounted for 15.5 per cent.
  • In 2021, a total of 61,573 patents were filed in India, making it the sixth largest in the world. But this was nowhere close to the nearly 16 lakh patents filed in China, and about six lakhs in the United States that year.


  • Research & Development spending in specific domains like biopharmaceuticals, vaccines, biosecurity, One Health, digital health, and data science should be increase significantly both in the public and private sectors. 
  • Investments should be made in areas where there are gaps in research capabilities and capacities e.g., technology development and commercialization of innovation.
  • A lot more emphasis should be on developing manufacturing capabilities of priority sectors across the value chain. 

National Research Foundation Bill, 2023

The approved Bill aims to establish National Research Foundation (NRF) that will seed, grow and promote Research and Development (R&D) and foster a culture of research and innovation throughout India’s universities, colleges, research institutions, and R&D laboratories.

Key Provisions of the bill

  • The bill, after approval in the Parliament, will establish NRF, an apex body to provide high-level strategic direction of scientific research in the country as per recommendations of the National Education Policy (NEP), at a total estimated cost of Rs. 50,000 crores during five years (2023-28).
  • Since the scope of the NRF is wide-ranging – impacting all ministries – the Prime Minister will be the ex-officio President of the Board and the Union Minister of Science & Technology & Union Minister of Education will be the ex-officio Vice-Presidents.
  • The Department of Science and Technology (DST) will be the administrative Department of NRF which will be governed by a Governing Board consisting of eminent researchers and professionals across disciplines.
  • NRF’s functioning will be governed by an Executive Council chaired by the Principal Scientific Adviser to the Government of India.
  • The bill will also repeal the Science and Engineering Research Board (SERB) established by an act of Parliament in 2008 and subsume it into NRF which has an expanded mandate and covers activities over and above the activities of SERB.

Role of NRF

  • NRF will forge collaborations among the industry, academia, and government departments and research institutions, and create an interface mechanism for participation and contribution of industries and State governments in addition to the scientific and line ministries. 
  • It will focus on creating a policy framework and putting in place regulatory processes that can encourage collaboration and increased spending by the industry on R&D.
  • In order to bring non-science disciplines of research in its ambit, NRF will fund research projects across four major disciplines –Sciences; Technology; Social Sciences; and Arts and Humanities.

Science and Engineering Research Board (SERB)

  • SERB is a statutory body established through SERB Act 2008 of Parliament. 
  • To Support basic research in emerging areas of Science & Engineering is the primary and distinctive mandate of the Board. 
  • As per the provisions of the SERB Act 2008, the Board has an Oversight Committee. The members of the Oversight committee advise and assist the board.

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