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Budget 2023: A Common Pool Of Science Infra To Spur R&D

Budget 2023: A Common Pool Of Science Infra To Spur R&D

  • 5th Jan 2023
  • Fortune India

Opinion Article by: Prof. V. Kamakoti, Director, IIT Madras

Move will help research institutes access funds to procure expensive equipment for R&D activities.

AS A NATION, we have already established our mettle at research by individual institutions. This was possible due to the infrastructure created through budgetary allocations that came as grant-in-aid to these institutions. The Centre has been funding research institutes with a lot of capital equipment.

All higher educational institutions, where there is a need for a lot of funding for quality research, were also benefited through tax and non-tax concessions given year after year in Union Budgets. For instance, the tax rebate offered to people who fund or donate money has encouraged many to donate to institutes like IITs. That has helped us carry out activities, including merit-based scholarships, awards, funded research, etc. The corporate social responsibility (CSR) grant is another example of Budget-induced support.

With a history of innovations behind us, it is now time to add the element of collectivistic design thinking into our research methodology. Future scientific advancements should no longer be activities in silos but a part of the collective consciousness of the academia and industry. The driving point for high-quality research and product development is to provide seamless access to world-class infrastructure.

Web Of Equipment

Hence, the forthcoming Union Budget may look at supporting the formation of a common pool of scientific infrastructure of costly, world-class tools and equipment spread across institutions. All researchers and innovators in India should have access to these facilities. If we can set aside at least $1 billion for this Web of Equipment (WE) model, it can spur a lot of R&D in multiple disciplines.

It would be game-changing since it could eliminate the need for individual research institutions, start-ups and MSMEs to seek funding to procure expensive equipment needed for cutting-edge R&D activities. Instead, access could be provided to these institutes for a nominal fee.

How Would It Work?

To begin with, one should identify a list of world-class equipment needed for advanced research and innovation. Subsequently, institutions may be requested to register equipment in their possession in the common WE portal. The balance equipment needs to be purchased and registered in the portal. The government may consider funding this purchase and subsequent maintenance and upgrade of all equipment registered in the portal via the National Research Foundation.

A sustainable working model could be that each institute that gets new equipment as part of the WE initiative, in return, contributes working equipment of its own, worth the same value, to WE. For example, if IIT Madras received new equipment worth ₹300 crore, the institution would share its own working equipment worth ₹300 crore bought within the past five years. Extrapolating this, let us say, if the government invests ₹4,000 crore in the first year to populate WE, it gets a total return of ₹8,000 crore - ₹4,000 crore of its own investments, and ₹4,000 crore from institutions. The host institution of a particular equipment will be given 40% of the time on it, and the remaining 60% will be available to other institutions, start-ups, and MSMEs.

The maintenance of WE on a yearly basis can be through fee-per-use schemes and the balance through Central funding. The aim would be to minimise the quantum of funding from the government.

Both fundamental and applied research in priority sectors such as basic sciences, semiconductor industry, manufacturing, health tech, and agriculture require world-class equipment. WE can provide valuable access to tools, which would lead to high-quality publications, patents, and products. Finally, WE can also foster collaborative efforts between academia and industries.

There is no dearth of talent, knowledge and scientific temper in India. What could hold us back are deficiencies in infrastructure and access to tools. The WE model can remove this obstacle and have far-reaching consequences for the future of our nation.