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National Research Foundation (NRF) |

National Research Foundation (NRF)

Context

∙ Despite approving a Bill to set up a National Research Foundation (NRF), the interim budget for 2024-25 was silent on allocation for the institution.

About

∙ The Union Cabinet had approved the NRF Bill in June 2023, paving the way for its establishment. However, the interim budget for 2024-25 skipped any mention of NRF.

∙ In the Union budget for 2021-22, the Centre had announced that it would set aside Rs 50,000 crore for NRF over five years. 

∙ However, the following year, it was allocated a budget of just Rs 1 lakh. Further in 2023-24, the Union budget allocated Rs 2,000 crore for the NRF, which was then revised to Rs 258.60 crore.

The National Research Foundation (NRF) Bill, 2023 

∙ The approved Bill will pave the way to  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).

∙ The Department of Science and Technology (DST) will be the administrative Department of NRF.

National Research Foundation (NRF)

∙ Aim: To 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.

∙ Governing Board: NRF will be governed by a Governing Board consisting of eminent researchers and professionals across disciplines.

∙ Ex-officio President of the Board: The Prime Minister 

∙ Ex-officio Vice-Presidents of the Board: Union Minister of Science & Technology & Union Minister of Education 

∙ Executive Council: NRF’s functioning will be governed by an Executive Council chaired by the Principal Scientific Adviser to the Government of India.

Role: 

∙ Forge collaborations among the industry, academia, and government departments and research institutions, 

∙ Create an interface mechanism for participation and contribution of industries and State governments in addition to the scientific and line ministries(specific governmental departments). 

∙ 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.

∙ Repeal: The bill will also repeal the Science and Engineering Research Board (SERB) established by an act of Parliament in 2008.

Benefits of the NRF:

∙ It will help to improve the quality of research in India.

∙ It will help to increase the quantity of research in India.

∙ It will help to make India a more attractive destination for foreign researchers.

∙ It will help to create new jobs in India.

∙ It will help to improve the quality of life for all Indians with the help of ensuing research.

Challenges:

∙ Still in the planning phase: The NRF does not yet have an administrative structure or direction.

∙ Transparency: The experts also highlighted a lack of transparency in establishing the governance structure of the proposed institution.

∙ Opposite to the objective of NEP: The NEP 2020 had mentioned that the NRF would be governed independently of the government, by a rotating board of governors consisting of the “very best researchers and innovators across fields”.

∙ However, in June 2023, the government stated that the governing board would be presided over by the Prime Minister and the Union Minister of Science and Technology.

∙ Not an independent body: Even the Executive Committee, which will govern the day-to-day functioning of the NRF, is to be headed by a government-appointed person (the Principal Scientific Advisor).

∙ Though initially modeled around the National Science Foundation, an independent agency of the US federal government, the NRF now seems to be dependent on the government.

∙ Insufficient funding: Of the Rs 50,000 crore set aside for NRF over five years (2023-28), some Rs 36,000 crore (72 per cent) was expected to come from the private sector.

∙ Thus, the government is envisaging spending only around Rs. 14,000 crore over five years, i.e., around 2,800 crore per year which is insufficient considering the volume of research conducted in India.

∙ This is much less than Rs 7,931.05 crore allocated to the DST, Rs. 2,683.86 crore for the DBT, and Rs 5,746.51 crore allocated for the Department of Scientific and Industrial Research during the Union budget for 2022-23.

Way Ahead:

∙ There is a need to wait for the full Union Budget that will be presented after the elections slated later this year.∙ There is a need to move the proposed institution from the planning phase and set up an administrative structure.

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