Innovation Ecosystem in India

India’s investment in research unsatisfactory: UNESCO report


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level: UNESCO Science Report

Mains level: India's expenditure on research and development

While India has made ‘solid progress’ towards the Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) targets concerning the industry, infrastructure, and innovation, the country’s investment in research remains unsatisfactory, the UNESCO Science Report has observed. UNESCO Science Report.

This newscard provides useful data about India’s expenditure on R&D and its adequacy.

UNESCO Science Report

  • The UNESCO Science Report is a global monitoring report published regularly by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization.
  • Every five years, this report maps the latest trends and developments in national and regional policy landscapes, against the backdrop of shifting socio-economic, geopolitical and environmental realities.

Data on research funding in India

  • India has one of the lowest GERD/GDP ratios among the BRICS nations, according to the report.
  • The gross domestic expenditure on research (GERD) has been stagnant at 0.7% of the GDP for years, although, in absolute terms, research expenditure has increased.

Why flag such slowdown?

  • India’s research intensity has been declining since 2014.
  • The Science and Technology Policy of 2003 fixed the threshold of devoting 2% of GDP to research and development (R&D) by 2007.
  • This target date was set back to 2018 in the new Science, Technology and Innovation Policy (2013) then again to 2022 by the Economic Advisory Council of the Prime Minister.
  • In 2020, the task force drafting the country’s new Science and Technology Policy recommended pushing back the target date to a more realistic 2030.

Rise of private enterprises

  • R&D in the government sector has been in steady decline since 2015, whereas the share of private business enterprises in it has shot up to 42%.
  • While in theory this is a positive trend, the R&D is focused primarily on sectors such as pharmaceuticals, automotive, and information technology.
  • Even in these industries, it is concentrated in a small number of firms, the report said.
  • It further noted that investment in R&D by foreign multinationals is on the rise, accounting for as much as 16% of private-sector investment in R&D in 2019.
  • The report noted that the majority of the software-related patents were being bagged by MNCs operating from Indian soil, while pharma patents were obtained mostly by domestic firms.

Few successes to count

  • On the bright side is the encouraging increase in scientific publications by Indian researchers on cutting-edge technologies.
  • Total publications have risen from 80,458 in 2011 to 1.61 lakh in 2019.
  • Indian researchers are publishing between 1.5 and 1.8 times the global average on green technologies, complementing the government’s push to expand green energy sources.
  • But then again, patenting by domestic corporations, research institutes, universities, and individuals remain low in India.

Key suggestions

  • The UNESCO Science Report underscores the need for ‘policy bridges’ for fostering a more effective interaction between foreign and local research firms.
  • Given the large number of multinational corporations now engaged in R&D, it is imperative that the host economy benefits from this activity the report said.
  • It also called for improved linkages between the start-up ecosystem and manufacturers to push technological development in sectors where India enjoys a global presence.

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