State Research Foundations: An idea whose time has come

With the decks being cleared for the establishment of the National Research Foundation (NRF) [1], it would be good if some of our progressive state governments could consider setting up State Research Foundations (SRFs) to fast-track the growth and development of innovation-led growth in their regions.

Such an initiative on the part of states – kickstarted by those having a high Net State Domestic Product such as Maharashtra, Gujarat, Tamil Nadu, Uttar Pradesh, Karnataka, etc. [2] – could contribute significantly to the strengthening of, and making more robust and vibrant, the research ecosystem in the country.

It could lead to the development of new ideas and approaches for helping a geographically diverse country like ours evolve indigenous, state-specific, and India-focused solutions to address some of the biggest challenges that we face as a nation (climate change, clean energy transition, creating more, new, and better-quality jobs for the ever-expanding workforce, etc.) in our mission of becoming a developed nation a few decades from now.

The setting up of SRFs, backed by decent 5-year funding budgets (with the money quantum subject to the financial strength of the concerned states), could go a long way in augmenting the total corpus available for research in India and make it possible to provide grants to a larger number of educational and research institutions and promising, independent researchers nationwide. It could also play a big role in increasing the overall pool of researchers in India.

Although Rs 50,000 crore has been earmarked for the NRF over a 5-year period, that amount, by itself, may not be enough for research capacity creation of the magnitude necessary in India. The NRF, on its own, may also find it a tough ask to provide generous funding support to all deserving institutions and researchers given the size and scale of research that is necessary to come up with mechanisms to tangibly improve the quality of life of India’s 1.4 billion citizens who make almost 17 percent of the global population.

The number of researchers (in full-time equivalent) per million population in India stood at a mere 262 in 2020-21 [3]. In contrast, in 2018 itself, the United States had 4,412 and China 1,307 researchers per million inhabitants (in full-time equivalent) respectively [4].

The state-level Ministries of Science and Technology, and Education, could take the lead in setting up State Research Foundations in their respective regions, with the governance mechanism modelled on the lines of what has been decided for the National Research Foundation. Each SRF could have the Chief Minister of the state as the ex-officio President of the Governing Board, with the ministers-in-charge of Science and Technology, and Education being joint ex-officio Vice Presidents of the Governing Board of the State Research Foundation.

To ensure that SRFs can become more effective, these organizations should work closely with the NRF and, also the Office of the Principal Scientific Adviser to the Government of India [5]. The State Research Foundations should also actively engage with local industry players and factor in the inputs provided by businesses.

Moreover, the SRFs could take inspiration from the US National Science Foundation (NSF) [6] given this American federal agency’s years of experience and expertise in evaluating and funding research proposals. In an average year, the NSF funds nearly 12,000 competitive awards for research, education and training, and supports about 2,000 colleges, universities, and other institutions and nearly 318,000 researchers, entrepreneurs, students and teachers.

To ensure that development for all becomes a reality in India, it is essential that all stakeholders, including state governments, step up to contribute to this national goal. Establishing State Research Foundations could be a fantastic indicator of the extent to which various states are willing to push themselves to emerge as agents of change.

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About the Author

Sumali Moitra is an Advisor at the Gurgaon-based R M Consulting. Views expressed are personal. Twitter: @sumalimoitra

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