Where India lags in science, research fields, and can National Research Foundation help fix it?


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level: NA

Mains level: India's expenditure on research and development and necessity and potential of National Research Foundation (NRF)

Central Idea

  • The government’s recent approval of the National Research Foundation (NRF) has been widely hailed by the scientific community in India. The establishment of the NRF presents a significant opportunity to tackle long-standing deficiencies within the country’s scientific research sector.

*Relevance of the topic

*Despite possessing a vast pool of science and engineering graduates, extensive research institutions, and active involvement in cutting-edge scientific research, India has lagged behind several nations in research indicators.

*While the spending on research has increased over the years, it has not kept pace with the rapid growth of India’s GDP.

*It is crucial for India to harness the potential of demographic dividend

Insufficient expenditure on research and development

  • Inadequate Allocation: The Indian government has failed to meet its stated objective of allocating at least two percent of the national GDP for research and development (R&D) activities. Despite this objective being set for over two decades, the current expenditure on research as a proportion of GDP stands at only around 0.65 percent, a decline from 0.8 percent at the beginning of the millennium.
  • Stagnant Growth: The share of research expenditure as a percentage of GDP has remained stagnant for the past decade, indicating a lack of significant progress in increasing investment in R&D.
  • Falling Behind Global Standards: In comparison to other countries, India’s expenditure on R&D falls short. According to the 2021 UNESCO Science Report, at least 37 countries spent more than one percent of their GDP on R&D in 2018, with 15 of them surpassing the two percent mark. Globally, the average percentage of GDP spent on R&D is 1.79 percent, indicating that India lags behind in research investment.
  • Insufficient Funding per Researcher: The amount allocated per researcher in India is significantly lower compared to other nations. In 2020, India spent only $42 (in purchasing power parity terms) per researcher. In contrast, countries like Israel, South Korea, and the United States invested substantially higher amounts per researcher, highlighting the need for increased financial support to facilitate quality research.
  • Disproportionate Growth: While funding for research in India has increased over the years, it has not kept pace with the country’s economic growth. As a result, the share of research expenditure as a proportion of GDP has declined, indicating a mismatch between the growth of the research sector and overall economic development.

Significance of sufficient allocation for research and development (R&D) activities in India

  • Promoting Innovation and Technological Advancement: Adequate funding for R&D fosters innovation and technological advancement in various sectors. It allows scientists, researchers, and institutions to conduct groundbreaking research, develop new technologies, and create intellectual property.
  • Addressing Societal Challenges: Sustained investment in R&D enables the exploration of solutions to pressing societal challenges. It supports research in areas such as healthcare, agriculture, energy, climate change, and infrastructure development.
  • Enhancing Global Competitiveness: Adequate funding for R&D is crucial for India to remain globally competitive. It allows the country to stay at the forefront of scientific advancements, technological breakthroughs, and innovation. By investing in R&D, India can nurture a skilled workforce, attract talent, foster collaborations with international partners, and build a strong knowledge-based economy.
  • Driving Economic Growth and Job Creation: R&D stimulates demand for goods and services, creates employment opportunities, and contributes to overall economic development. Robust R&D investment promotes entrepreneurship, encourages startups, and facilitates the commercialization of research outcomes, leading to job creation and economic prosperity.
  • Strengthening Academic Institutions: Sufficient allocation for R&D enables universities and research institutions to enhance their research infrastructure, attract top talent, and engage in cutting-edge research. This strengthens the academic ecosystem, promotes interdisciplinary collaboration, and facilitates knowledge transfer between academia and industry.
  • Leveraging Global Collaboration: Adequate investment in R&D enables India to actively participate in global collaborations and leverage international expertise. It encourages knowledge sharing, joint research projects, and scientific collaborations with renowned institutions worldwide.

India’s research output and collaboration

  • Doctorates and Research Output: India produces a significant number of science and engineering doctorates. In the year 2020-21, India produced 25,550 doctorates, with 14,983 in science and engineering disciplines. In terms of absolute numbers, India ranks among the top countries globally. However, considering India’s large population, the number of researchers per million is relatively low compared to other developing nations.
  • Publications: Indian researchers have shown improvement in publishing articles in international science and engineering journals. In 2020, they published 149,213 articles, which is almost two and a half times more than a decade earlier. However, Indian publications only constituted 5 percent of all articles published globally. China contributed 23 percent, while the United States accounted for 15.5 percent.
  • Patents: In 2021, India filed a total of 61,573 patents, making it the sixth-largest in the world in terms of patent filings. However, this number is significantly lower compared to countries like China and the United States, which filed millions of patents in the same year.

Necessity of National Research Foundation (NRF)

  • Addressing Funding Issues: The NRF has the potential to address the issue of insufficient funding for research and development (R&D) activities in India. By providing a centralized funding mechanism, the NRF can streamline and optimize the allocation of resources, ensuring that sufficient funds are directed towards scientific research.
  • Coupling Education and Research: One of the key areas where India faces an anomaly is the disconnect between education and research. The NRF places emphasis on rectifying this by coupling education and research.
  • Strengthening Research in Universities: The NRF aims to enhance research capabilities in universities. Currently, only a small percentage of Indian universities engage in active research. The NRF’s focus on rectifying this anomaly can lead to the establishment of robust research ecosystems within universities, making them centres for research and development activities.
  • Promoting Collaboration and Innovation: By providing a platform for interdisciplinary collaborations, facilitating knowledge-sharing, and encouraging industry-academia partnerships, the NRF can foster innovation, accelerate the translation of research outcomes into practical applications, and promote entrepreneurship.
  • Addressing Gender Disparity: The NRF can also contribute to addressing the gender disparity in the scientific research sector. By prioritizing gender diversity and inclusivity in research funding and initiatives, the NRF can work towards increasing the representation of women in scientific research, fostering an environment that is more equitable and diverse.


  • The establishment of the National Research Foundation holds tremendous promise for rectifying deficiencies in India’s scientific research sector. It is imperative for the government, scientific community, and relevant stakeholders to collaborate and provide the necessary support to ensure the success of the NRF in transforming India’s research landscape

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