The past decade has outlined the salience of science, technology, and innovation (STI). New challenges and opportunities have necessitated new approaches to teaching, learning, and sharing scientific knowledge. Science and scientific temper are imperative for the growth and development of individuals and society as a whole.
Acknowledging that science is the panacea for socio-economic challenges in the diverse sectors of health, education, climate change, energy, and others, the Indian STI ecosystem has been evolving, with scientific advancements proliferating the Indian economy and increasing our living standards. Scientific temper was first coined by the first Prime Minister of independent India, Jawaharlal Nehru, in his book ‘Discovery of India‘. The idea of scientific acumen was later incorporated into the Indian constitution in Article 51A (h) that encourages citizens to “develop the scientific temper, humanism and the spirit of inquiry and reform” as a fundamental duty of every citizen.
There has been a range of scientific policies rolled out by the consecutive governments to instill the society’s scientific temper. This article seeks to trace the transition of scientific policies since Independence and highlight the changing contours of the 5th Science, Technology, and Innovation Policy (STIP), driven by tech and innovation.
The first Scientific Policy Resolution, 1958 (SPR1958), laid the scientific enterprise’s foundation and established research infrastructure in biotechnology, defense research, nuclear energy, space, etc. Driven by self-reliance goals, the second Technology Policy Statement (TPS) 1983 was rolled out, which focused on promoting and developing indigenous technology.
In the subsequent years, the focus was on the conversion of scientific knowledge into value. With the Science and Technology Policy 2003, investments in Research and Development were ramped up. An institutional apparatus in the form of the Scientific and Engineering Research Board (SERB) was put in place, promoting engineering research in India. The decade of innovation that followed was accompanied by Science, Technology, and Innovation Policy 2013 (STIP 2013), which invigorated the private sector to invest in technology-led innovation.
Fast forward today, in the wake of the Covid-19 crisis, reiterating the goals of Atmanirbhar Bharat and innovation, India treads on the path of reorientation through radical and progressive proposals enshrined in the 5th STIP. Through an inclusivity-based, expert-driven bottom-up approach, which constitutes the heart of STIP 2020, the draft policy addresses the contemporary requirements of accessibility to scientific knowledge and creating an innovation culture. With this, it sets sight on the club of scientific superpowers in the future.
The draft policy aims to foster an open science framework that will ensure all stakeholders’ equitable participation in the STI ecosystem. Indian institutions spend about Rs.1500 cr/yr on journal subscriptions, available to only a third of our researchers. STIP’s vision of One Nation One Subscription enables universal accessibility of journals, both Indian and foreign, instead of a centrally negotiated payment, allowing Open Educational resources.
Moving away from fragmented subscription and democratizing science epitomizes an Open science framework that aims to share scientific knowledge produced within the STI ecosystem with the stakeholders in other sectors. The policy envisages a robust mechanism to link academia with the industry and generate tangible solutions to achieve the Agenda 2030- SDGs.
From divergence and working in silos, STIP stipulates convergence and integration by establishing a National STI observatory that will be a centrally organized scientific data repository accessible to all the economy’s verticals. The development of cheap PPE kits and vaccines shed light on Indian research capabilities and scope of collaboration. The metadata generated from the publicly funded research will be accessible through Open Data Policy. This accessibility to research-backed data and the exchange of ideas will accentuate accountability in research outcomes.
Also, to stimulate scientific temper in the society at all levels, the draft policy proposes new educational institutes for holistic growth and capacity building. To foster innovative thinking, cluster schools, and innovation hubs will be created at the preliminary level. Innovation and Entrepreneurship Centres are expected to aid in innovative research by undergraduates at the university level.
Lobbying societal good, the globally competitive STIP observes a gender skewed ratio in STEM. Women researchers form only 14% of the 2.8 lakh total researchers, engineers, and scientists in India. To correct this lopsided gender representation, the policy proposes 30% of women’s participation in decision-making bodies.
In addition to social inclusion, stimulating innovation culture demands substantial fund flow. Provisionally 90% of public funding goes to central universities with a pool of merely 10% researchers, whereas 90% of students in state universities have no access to state-of-the-art tech for R&D.
As per the Indian Economic Survey 2020-21, the government is heavy-lifting its research and development. For STI-led innovation, the private sector should rev up its gross expenditure on R&D.
To achieve the goal of an Atmanirbhar Bharat, there’s a need to catapult Gross Domestic Expenditure On R&D (GERD) and private investment in R&D, avoid overlap of research in public institutions and industries, intensive development of indigenous technology, and promoting traditional scientific knowledge.
The draft policy lays down an ambitious framework, but the grim reality is we are devoid of resources and researchers. According to the report by a policy think-tank Brookings India, India has merely 216.2 researchers per million people compared to other nations. The shortage of researchers imperils the innovation culture in India.
The policy envisages an innovative environment, the prerequisite for the group of curious learners, intellectuals, researchers, and not rote learners. STIP outlook for the educational institutes and National Education Policy 2020 would have to work in tandem to arouse students’ interests in research.
In the pursuit to leave a global footprint, there’s a need to upskill scientific diplomacy. Also, the policy must work upon involving all the similar institutions and let them align themselves to work on a mission mode.
In contrast to other nations, India’s low ratio of laurels also reflects the shortage of stronger institutions. These issues should be the main driving force in curating a policy that promotes scientific quest, follows an evidence-based field approach, and nurtures and retains the human capital of the country.
*Views expressed are personal*
The opinions expressed in this essay are those of the authors. They do not purport to reflect the opinions or views of CCS.