Economy India
RAJ ARTHA

 Linkage between Academic institutions and corporate sector

 We need a major reshuffling in our education policy and programs

Manohar Manoj, Editor, Economy India

Research and Development( R&D) activities are one of the major elements of development for any country. Not to say, it has an enormous role in setting both the tone and tenure of development. It has amply proved that the country, which spends more on R &D, it always has more advantage in terms of accelerating the development process, whether by taking more initiative for innovation, applying more advanced technology, having more scale of production and also by earning a bigger volume of economic surpluses.

The history of major advanced countries of the world tells us that they always have more focus on R &D and hence they have been able to mostly achieve the early advantage in any business initiative, thus they became the global leader. It has been evident in terms of reserving more patent rights, in terms of getting a lead role in manufacturing and creating worldwide utility for new products and services for the rest of the world. It benefits them in making their say in both domestic and international markets. It has been proved time and again; that developed countries are ahead in economic development, which is attributed to their greater emphasis on R&D, their higher provision of expenditure for them, more proactive policies, more incentives for start-ups, fiscal concessions, and creating a wonderful research prone environment in their country.

Linkages between academic institutions and corporate needs

Now the big question is how we are able to make proper coordination between educational institutions with corporations and all their manufacturing activities whether in the public sector or in the private sector. Another question is how the curriculum of the educational institutions matches the exact needs of the corporation and how many sensible coordination and linkages are being established between them.

Talking about the availability of professional and technical institutions in India we have around 1000 universities imparting numbers of courses to the students, we have the apex research body like CSIR for promoting scientific and industrial research in the country; we have ICAR for providing a variety of inputs, knowledge, and training to the agriculturists; we have two dozen IITs, producing thousands of technologists, we have two dozen AIMS, generates a plethora of medical Practicenors and researchers; we have around two dozen IIMs, IIITs and thousands of polytechnics, engineering, medical, management colleges, etc. Overall we do not have the dearth of technical and training institutions barring some remote corners of the country. But the foremost things are the substantial availability of utility research & findings and its absorption by the corporates of the country. The question is, do the research outcomes of the universities and research institutions enrich the corporate organizations? Do they get the various options to enhance production and take the lead in any manufacturing field? Are the research institutions economically viable?

R & D has been the sole responsibility of the govt., why?

In India, the main problem is that the government is making most of the expenditure on research and development activities. The past research history of the country shows us while making investments over research activities, governments have been liberal in terms of not bothering about the economic outcome of their investment. It is said that to make one IIT graduate, govt. has to bear one crore and for making one MBBS from AIMS, govt. has to also bear around one crore, but in the end, what we see, they leave their homeland and for the sake of better remuneration they migrate to the country like the US and other countries. Now our govt. has started to feel, it cannot make the sizable investment in such activities of R&D. In order to this, fees of IIT and IIM have been hiked tremendously. Grant given to the universities through the channel of UGC has been restricted. In government universities and even in schools, teachers are not being hired on a permanent basis. The reason is, the govt. thinks that expenses over higher education are not that kind of priority and that elementary education matters to them. Govt. is of the view, that higher education must not bear a huge amount of subsidy, it must have user charges and the sector which is benefits most by this, must come forward to invest in this.

 The recent  row over JNU’s hostel fee hike

It would be imperative to mention here the JNU episode, which occurred a few days ago, under which large numbers of JNU students went for prolonged demonstrations protesting against their hostel fee hike. However, this increase was not under any major policy guideline of the Govt. of India, rather it was a call taken by the university administration. But overall under the present scenario, Govt. of India does not want to spend much on higher education and thereby on the R & D activities too. We all know, the fee structure of IIT, IIM and AIMS have been hiked manifold. The same thing may be applied now to all higher academic institutions. The logic behind this, higher education is not alike primary elementary education, where govt. has the prime responsibility to bear this. For this, we have a massive sarva shiksah Abhiyan (SSA). The question is, even in primary education, there is a large presence of the private sector.  Very amazingly even in rural areas, we find a huge penetration of private schools there, which are now covering around 47 percent of the rural populace of the country. We all know private educational institutions’ fee charges are very high, whereas govt. provide elementary education almost free of cost. In govt. School teachers get a higher salary too. Same thing we find in respect of higher education too. The private players in the higher education sector are notorious for high capitation fee, development charges, boarding charges, etc. In order to do that if govt. goes for even some hike in higher education charges, seeing the fee structure of private players, it seems to be negligible. Despite this, we see agitations like JNU. Seeing the presence of both govt. and private players in India’s education world vary from primary education to higher education, we now need a broad, multilayered and comprehensive policy in terms of investment and fee structure in the whole education sector. If we want more coming of investment in education, especially in higher education consisting of R &D activities, we must bring three-tier regulatory authority for our whole education sector, making it on the line of TRAI in the telecom sector.

Under this, the first tier central regulatory authority must be given all areas related to higher education carrying professional,  technical, R&D from PG level to above PG level. This authority must have the right to frame fees and working guidelines for both public and private players depending upon their ranking and performance. The second tier state-level regulatory authority must be given all areas related to the above primary education to UG education. It must have the right to fix the fee structure of both private and public educational players and the district-level third-tier educational authority must have the domain of all primary schools operated by both public and private players. I think all public sector educational institutions above 12th class must have a reasonable fee structure, not necessary to keep them in parity of private players. But private players must have a quality ranking and as per that their fee structure must be fixed by the concerned educational regulatory authority. These initiatives will have many benefits; first, it will offload the expense burden on govt. sector and second even lower middle class will be able to afford the private educational institutions because the regulatory authority will fix up their fee in a reasonable manner

If we do this, we can attract lots of R & D players under private educational institutions. We know many companies have their in-house R&D center, so they should be provided huge incentives on behalf of govt.  Even CSR funds of the companies must be allowed to be spent over their R & D areas. If we take such initiatives, it will provide a big level playing field for both public and private educational players, thus moping up all kinds of research activities in the country.

Indian corporations will have to come forward in a big manner

The irony is that in India, corporations have not been as benevolent as the US and Canadian corporations have been in terms of making their investment in several R&D activities. In the US and other Western countries, most of the corporates donate their surpluses and post-retirement company shares/ assets to the research and development institutes in a big way. Of course, these research institutions have a business module too; if they make huge investments, then they earn also out of it. In the US, there are many big foundations, that invest massively over R&D activities. We have the Ford Foundation, Rockefeller Foundation, Bill Gates and Melinda Gates Foundation, etc., who have been very notable for their several R&D activities all over the world. But, in India, barring the Tata group, no other big corporations have a history of doing like this. They have been more dependent on the government in this regard and thus they never realize it as their own duty.

Now the trend has started to change. The day start-up business was given emphasis and made a priority by the govt., the R&D activities automatically got a boost. The government’s new ‘skill India’ program has also somehow inspired corporations to take some new initiatives in making its presence in training and R&D activities. Now gone are the days, when investment in infrastructure was not being done by the corporations, it used to be the sole duty of the government to do this. But in the course of time, the changing module of the infrastructure business, the arrival of regulators, the introduction of public and private partnership patterns and the new system of charging cess, toll, and fees, ultimately influenced and inspired the private sector too to make their investment in infra sector. We have to repeat the same story in the R&D sector too. We have to allure the corporate sector and convince them to make their investment with this notion that their investment is not going in vain. For this, we have to make several sorts of revenue models and a variety of incentive plans to be given by the government.

R & D paves the potential of some new industries on the line of IT industries

As we, all know India’s initiative taken earlier on computer education in terms of both its software and hardware parts made it a globally competitive country. India emerged not only as the global BPO leader; it also got a wonderful opportunity in the world software market. However, that three-decade story of IT revolution in the country is now reaching its saturation point; therefore, we cannot rely solely upon this in order to make our presence in the world market, so we need to explore many new areas. Fortunately, many new sectors have already evolved in this current decade of the 2010s, where India was able to find the potential to emerge as a global leader too. These are the areas of biotechnology, nanotechnology, pharmaceutical sector, where the pursuit of various kinds of R&D activities benefited a lot in these sectors.

It is worthwhile to mention, in the just-concluded global biotechnology summit held in New Delhi, India, it was acknowledged that India achieved tremendous expertise in this biotechnology sector. It witnessed exponential growth in the current decade. The government of India has encouraged the sector by setting up hundreds of biotechnology parks and incubators while thousands of start-ups have been supported by the Government also.

It is worth mentioning here, govt. of India has set a target of making India the top country in science & technology by 2030. As compared to a 5% growth in scientific publications worldwide, India has notched a growth of 14% in this sphere. According to Union Minister of Science of Technology, Dr. Harshwardhan, India has developed a number of vaccines and the rotavirus vaccine, which are now part of the National Immunization program. Besides our laboratories have also produced vaccines against dengue and malaria. India has got no.3 position in nanotechnology and our tsunami early warning system has been ranked No.1 in the world.

The emphasis made over research and development activities has enabled India to play a pioneering role in the UN sponsored Mission Innovation (MI) programme and is the leading country in three MI challenges on smart grids, off-grid access to electricity and sustainable biofuels.

India’s new saga of Biotechnology sector

It is also imperative to mention here, that the Govt. of India is working to make the biotechnology sector to serve mankind to move towards a biotechnology-led economy, transforming as many lives as possible, creating opportunities and promising development for all. It is to be mention here India was the first country in the world which instituted a separate Department of Bio-Technology.

In the Global Biotech summit, it was also seen; that young innovators and entrepreneurs in the biotech sector were encouraged in a big way by the GOI ministers. GOI wants to support and assist the ideas of researchers in reality. Therefore, it was correctly said by former Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee two decades ago, ‘’The wave of Information Technology is India today and Biotechnology would be the India tomorrow. That is to be seen now in reality.1

Global Biotech summit

Global Bio-India is one of the largest biotechnology stakeholders conglomerates, whose summit was held in India for the first time. It brought academia, innovators, researchers, start-ups, and medium and large companies together on the same platform. Over 3,000 delegates from around 25 countries and over 15 states of India participated in the mega event. More than 200 exhibitors, 275 Startups, and more than 100 Bio-Technology Incubators participated in it.

It is to be mentioned here, that at present India’s biotech industry is targeting to achieve around $100 billion in turnovers, which is currently scaled $51 billion. Seeing the sector growing at the speed of 14.7% annually, the $100b target does not seem difficult. Biotechnology is recognized as the sunrise sector- a key driver for contributing to India’s USD 5 Trillion economy target by 2025.

 

More and more R & D will ensure our energy security too

We all know, our major dependence on fossil energy will not last long, therefore from today, we have either to bring an alternative to it or to reduce its consumption. In this connection, the ongoing move of blending ethanol with petroleum products is a very significant one. The confidence of our researchers allowed the blending of ethanol from merely one percent to 20 percent now, which is one of the major byproducts of the sugar industry, just reducing its heavy import bill too. Our handy sort of exploration works in the biofuel sector can be also termed as one of the major R&D success stories of India. Bio-energy is going to play an important role in the coming future. The consistent innovations developed by our bio-energy scientists have enabled us to utilize waste biomass by converting it into biofuels. With 600MT of biomass, which can be used as raw material, India remains the only country with highest scope for the growth of Biofuels.2

It is to be also noted here; that in the future, this ethanol will be produced from raw materials like excess food grains, thus transforming our food growers into energy generators too. Having around  600 MT of biomass to be used as raw material for this, India holds the highest scope for the growth of biofuels.

 Govt.’s new initiative for simplifying the patent regime

The scale of success for any research and development activities is generally measured by how many patents are being reserved in the country during the given period. According to the Commerce and Industry Ministry, the government has simplified the patents regime for Start-ups, and MSMEs among others to encourage innovation. Now, the Department of Industrial Policy has decided to extend all support to new and emerging enterprises in the biotechnology sector. It is wonderful to know that “Outside the US, the largest number of FDA-approved drugs, numbering 523, come from India. From the present nearly Rs. 3.5 lakh crore worth of BT industry in India, the Dept. of BT aims to mop up Rs.7 lakh crore output by 2025 and analysts say this could even touch Rs.11/12 lakh crores”,3

Need for the formulation of a comprehensive policy on R&D

In order to create a congenial sort of linkage between corporations and universities, we need a massive policy formulation in this regard. First, we need to redraft a new curriculum for our universities with ample focus on fundamental education, which could directly benefit the students in terms of making themselves viable, sustainable and valuable. Second, we need to nurture a solid and sound pool of faculty teachers and trainers. Third, we have to establish linkages of the research courses with the production needs of corporate, so that there becomes no chance of futility of research activities. We have to act upon the formula of either a hundred percent placements for the research students or the establishment of sure-shot start-up enterprises. Fifth, there must be a variety of fiscal incentives for all kinds of R&D activities subject to various areas of business. Sixth, we must have a very smart business module for all R&D activities. Sixth, we need running of all R&D institutions with full economic viability. Seventh, R&D must have an intelligent sort of PPP model along with the scope of making international collaboration too. Last, but not least; we should also not forget the tremendous potential lying in our traditional knowledge.

The legacy of knowledge, which we have been using in our agriculture sector as well as in our domestic lives, is fabulous. It needs not to be undermined. It has enough utility for industrial and commercial purposes too. The way one-time-used plastic is now being dismantled, the use of soil-made glasses and jute-made bags started to come again. It means the cycle of change has retouched the old trends and methods. We must not forget it, old is always gold, so we do not need to always rely on new inventions; we also need to preserve and reintroduce conventional technology and know-how in a big way.

 

The writer of this paper is the editor of Economy India monthly magazine and also the author of two famous books titled ‘’A Crusade against Corruption on the Neutral Path’’ and ‘’A Dialogue on System Change, an initiative to Make a New India’’

 

Reference

1  Press Information Bureau, 21 Nov.19 New Delhi

2 1  Press Information Bureau, 21 Nov.19 New Delhi

3 1  Press Information Bureau, 21 Nov.19  New Delhi

 

 

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