The pandemic crisis has also provided an inescapable opportunity for research institutions, universities and industry to work in unison and collaboratively.
By Vipin Sondhi
India is steadily advancing on its journey towards sustainable development and realizing its aspiration to become a $5 trillion economy. The upcoming [email protected] that the Indian government is preparing has also launched an exercise to identify the key drivers of this journey. Indeed, a strong emphasis is needed on strengthening the national ecosystem of research, innovation and technological development to achieve this aspiration. The pandemic crisis has also provided an inescapable opportunity for research institutions, universities and industry to work in unison and collaboratively. The synergy developed would be instrumental in leveraging and catapulting India towards technology-driven growth embedded in sustainability.
The Current State of the Research, Innovation and Technology Ecosystem in India
Over the past few years, India has made huge strides in the field of technology. It is now positioned as one of the world’s leading nations in terms of research, innovation and technological prowess. We are on track with a jump of 35 places in 6 years, from a rank of 81 in 2015 to a rank of 46 in 2021 in the Global Innovation Index. India also ranks third in the world rankings in terms of research publications. We are now the third most attractive investment destination for technology transactions and also one of the largest start-up ecosystems in the world.
However, much more needs to be done to achieve sustainability in technology leadership. Indeed, while India’s gross expenditure on research and development (GERD) has steadily increased in absolute terms and has almost tripled over the past 10 years; but it is still low at 0.7%. In terms of percentage of GDP, it is the lowest among the BRICS countries. Overall, the average investment in research as a percentage of GDP is 2.3% for developed economies and 1.25% for developing economies. It is imperative for India to dramatically increase its investment in research, innovation and technology, which will help it achieve sustainable leadership.
Secondly, unlike other developed economies where more than 70% of the contribution of investment in research, innovation and technology comes from the private sector, in India the private sector contribution is less than 40% (in fact , it is 37%). Most of the investment in R&D is made by the government, which contributes more than 55% to research, innovation and technology in the form of investments in research laboratories such as DRDO, CSIR , AED, ICAR, etc. public enterprises and academic institutions. With the rapidly changing and disruptive global technology landscape, the Indian private sector needs to increase its investment in R&D to be relevant and ready for the next phase of growth.
It is in this pursuit that the following recommendations are made here, to help India achieve its technology leadership goals.
Key recommendations for achieving sustainable leadership in research, innovation and technology
- Increase investment in research, innovation and technology to 4% of GDP by 2047
Weak investment in R&D and, in particular, the lack of investment by private actors in innovation are the main causes of suboptimal research results. India as a nation is expected to invest 4% of its GDP in R&D by 2047. This requires a sharp and focused approach from the government and private sector. In 2021-2022, nearly Rs 14,700 crore has been allocated to the Ministry of Science and Technology with nearly Rs 6,000 crore to DST, Rs 5,200 crore to DSIR and Rs 3,500 crore to DBT. DST and DBT were the main contributors to R&D investments. To give a significant boost to investment in R&D, it is important to at least double the allocation of funds to our science ministries, which implies that at least Rs 30,000 crore be allocated to the Ministry of Science and Technology in the Union budget 2022-23.
At the same time, the private sector, which contributes 37% of the country’s investment in research (GERD) should aim to increase it to 70% in line with global trends. To ensure this, the private sector needs to identify relevant technologies in India to invest in and then undertake mission mode programs in the identified technologies. Platforms like GITA (Global Innovation & Technology Alliance) should be leveraged for global R&D collaborations. Companies can also invest in technology business incubators or contribute to research efforts carried out by national research institutions and laboratories as part of their CSR activities.
At the same time, the government should incentivize the private sector to invest more in R&D to take India to the next level. Risk reduction mechanisms for joint investment by industry and government, particularly for high-risk, high-investment projects (e.g. the UK’s Catapult Center-type model to boost collective effort in industry, universities and research institutes) should be explored. For this, the link between industry, academia and government must be strengthened and put on a solid platform.
- Leverage the dynamic ecosystem of startups and young talents
Today, India’s young talents, especially including Womenvia startups or others, are scripting the saga of success for a thriving innovation-driven economy. This creates valuable intellectual property and simultaneously generates important jobs. As we move forward, we need to consider building startup synergies with larger companies for incubation and take-up. In particular, women entrepreneurs should be encouraged to participate in the country’s research, innovation and technology ecosystem.
- Intellectual Property Rights (IPR): Driving Innovation and Technology Leadership
As India moves towards its aspiration to leadership in research, innovation and technology, it is important to protect the results of investments by securing its Intellectual Property Rights (IPRs). IPRs are increasingly becoming an “intellectual currency” helping to promote the competitiveness of countries around the world. According to the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO), India is ranked 7th among the top 10 patent filing offices in the world. However, only 30% of patents are filed by Indian residents against a global average of over 60%. India also ranks poorly when it comes to commercializing intellectual property. Moreover, India’s university structure has traditionally been largely focused on research publications rather than business commercialization.
It is encouraging to see that while the government recognizes IP as a valuable asset for India’s competitiveness, much more needs to be done to bring about an IP revolution, which will drive innovation, quality and competitiveness. Therefore, stakeholders in the innovation ecosystem, i.e. industry, startups, academia and institutions, need to focus on intellectual property as a key priority and maximize the protection and commercialization of Intellectual property.
- Inclusiveness as Key to Research, Innovation and Technology Leadership
India has about 17% of women directly engaged in R&D and scientific institutions. A concrete action plan to revitalize and encourage women’s participation from elementary school will help unleash creativity and innovation. It is well established that diverse and inclusive teams drive performance and innovation, thereby creating greater business value.
- Key technologies for sustainable leadership in the years to come
India is seeing tremendous traction on key technologies that would drive this transformation. Some examples of technology areas that could receive immediate attention are green energy, semiconductor design and manufacturing, hydrogen as fuel, advanced materials like graphene and nanomaterials, sequencing of the genome, space and ocean technologies, etc. intelligence, data security, digitalization and vaccine research, would usher in India’s true potential as a cornerstone of sustainable development.
The proposed technology initiatives can play an important role in fostering the culture of collaboration among various stakeholders in the technology and innovation ecosystem in India. These would help bring the required focus to the technologies that are expected to be critical for India in the years to come. Increasing investment in research, innovation and technology to more than 4% in the years to come could prove crucial to synergize various initiatives of national importance. It will integrate the complete chain of knowledge of technology, thus helping to realize the mission of Aatmanirbhar Bharat.
Indeed, as we move forward as a nation on this journey, our startups and entrepreneurs – men and women – would create a multiplier effect to generate an inclusive and vibrant ecosystem. The sum total of opportunities for the country in the current decade, the vibrant ecosystem of start-ups and the talent of its youth, including women, would help India realize its aspiration for sustainable leadership in the research, innovation and technology.
(The author is Chairman, CII Technology Mission and former CEO of Ashok Leyland and JCB. Opinions are personal and not necessarily those of FinancialExpress.com)
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