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March 08, 2021 Monday 12:39:34 PM IST

Roadmap to Excellence in Research and Innovation

Rajagiri Round Table

India had made rapid strides in science and technology since Independence. The establishment of several centres of excellence such as Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) , several public sector companies involved in various technologies and products, Indian Institute of Technology (IIT), Indian Institute of Science, Indian Institute of Management (IIM)s to name a few.

The nation faced brain drain as several young scientists, researchers and technologists went in search of greener pastures abroad. By and large, our higher education institutions failed to keep up to global standards either due to lack of resources, motivation and regulatory hassles.

Now, fresh signs of hope have emerged with the approval of National Education Policy (NEP 2020) and Science Technology and Innovation Policy (STIP). NEP 2020 aims to strengthen the education system from pre-school to university levels while STIP aims strengthen our research and development in science and technology.

Union Finance Minister Mrs Nirmala Sitharaman has allocated Rs 50,000 cr in the India Budget 2021-22 to strengthen the proposed National Research Foundation (NRF).
In this context, the 68th International Rajagiri Round Table Conference was held on Wednesday, 17th February via Zoom Meet as a synergy discussion with panelists drawn from our institutions of eminence, analysts and policy makers on preparing India to become a global power house in research and innovation.
Several colleges and universities have set up Technology Business Incubators (TBI), innovation centres, entrepreneurship training, patent centres and are conducting research in various areas.  India now occupies third position in research publications and among Top 50 in Global Innovation Index. There has been 8% growth in R&D investment at the national level in 2019. Of the 13045 patents granted in India, 1937 were by Indians. India has a strong manpower involved in research at 255 per million in 2017. We have a large network of 993 universities, 127 institutes of national importance. India now occupies 3rd rank in number of PhDs produced.
Quality of Research
Even as the data shows India has leapfrogged in research and innovation, concerns have been raised about the quality of research and whether it addresses the problems faced by Indian society or economy.  Dr Bhasi Marath, Professor, School of Management Studies, Cochin University of Science and Technology (CUSAT) said that  most of the research is undertaken to fill gaps in research literature and not at solving the addressing the issues facing society.  “There are so many journals to publish such new research and they often end up worthless,” Dr Bhasi added.
Dr Surya Kumar S, Professor at IIT, Hyderabad said that conventionally R&D was done mostly by PSUs such as BHEL, BEL and also private sector giants.  “Now innovation is not just carried out by well funded research institutes but even by farmers and artisans in rural India. We are moving from a centralized to decentralized research. Gandhiji advocated production by the masses rather than mass production. So we can think of centralised innovation to decentralised innovation by the masses. That is what the startup and innovation culture is trying to do,” Dr Suryakumar said. Lot of innovations are happening in India but meant for US market.
Dr MS Francis, Associate Professor and Head of Botany at Sacred Heart College, Kerala pointed out that engineering students may be given challenges to solve problems in their region. “For eg. waste water canals are covered by concrete slabs We spend a lot of effort and money on periodically lifting the slabs, cleaning the canals and putting it back. If we run a competition to design a device to lift such slabs and put it properly in place, it would be a great learning exercise for students as well,”  he said. Problem solving and research is inter-disciplinary and we have the habit of put topics into compartments or silos making it difficult to tackle problems in a meaningful manner, he added.
IPR Promotion
There has been an increase in patents filed in India but they are mostly done by multinational companies who have a foreign patent and want to sell their goods in India and protect their IPR in India as well. “In India professors in universities take patents to get a better NAAC score. Less than 30% of it is commercialized and the patents expire worthless,” according to Dr Bhasi M. But there are so many products that are out of patent but quite useful and available for free. “Why can’t we use such technologies to solve the problems around us,” Dr Bhasi quipped.

Research by Educators
Anupama Ramachandra, Principal, Delhi Public School, Electronic City, Bangalore lamented about lack of research by teachers.  “Many educators don't undertake research. If I require some data on literacy, numeracy or learning English as a second language, the data I get is outdated going back to 2017 and mostly done outside India. So school teachers should develop the habit of doing research and inculcate that habit in children.”
NEP 2020 rightly puts emphasis on innovation, creating a scientific temperament and developing 21st century skills. This indeed puts lot of pressure on the schools to undertake reforms. Teacher training has to be given importance as BEd courses are quite outdated. “ BEd curriculum has to be revamped as what I studied 40 years ago, my teachers are studying even now. Some topics are obsolete and not needed at all. I can preach about scientific temperament and innovation but the student is not going to do it unless I become a role model,” Anupama Ramachandra said.
Teachers are not able to keep pace with the trends in the market, according to Raj Chandra, young entrepreneur and Founder of Code Park and Byte Avenue. "In my college I could see my professors struggling a lot when it comes to teaching technology.  IT sector is ever evolving. “We can't teach students the 1998 technology when we are in 2020,” he said.
Innovation Leaders
Students play a vital role in nation building and there are bright young talents in IT sector even in machine learning and artificial intelligence (AI). “I have friends at TCS, just managing low value projects outsourced from US. Where we should be innovating and becoming leaders we are just a player in the market.  We are just competing but not becoming the leader. Let's get better at software and innovation. NEP allows choice for children,” Raj Chandra said.Innovation and triggering of creativity is not happening because of target and cost-centric approach and not knowledge quality approach. Conduct ing frequent knowledge enhancement programmes by academia with renowned and reputed external organisations/corporate institutions, recruiting and encouraging enterprising faculties for imparting multi-faceted teaching and training of youth is required, according to Dr  R Ganesan, Founder and Chairman/Presidium Chair of National Foundation for Entrepreneurship Development, Coimbatore.  Only a few schools are providing entrepreneurial training and have excellence in science and technology training. The registration procedure for startups should be simplified so that even school students can come up with enterprising ventures.
Nicy Mathew, Project Manager of  Pallikkutam iSchool underscored the importance of entrepreneurial learning for children and said that SELFIE (Smart and Sustainable Entrepreneurial Learing in Families in India and Elsewhere)  programme was launched to provide a learner driven, holistic learning experience based on Pallikkutam pedagogy to develop an entrepreneurial outlook among children. Moreover it follows the National Council of Educational Research and Training (NCERT) syllabus and imparts life skills using scientific teaching methodologies.
Rohith Joseph Mathew, student of Rajagiri School of Engineering and Technology (RSET) said that Startup missions can think of setting up incubation facilities in schools as innovation and entrepreneurship awareness has to be nurtured in children at a young age. “Creativity is not inherited. It is a skill that we can nurture. Graph of creativity falls as the child grows up because of lack of an enabling environment. “
Policy Perspectives
The NEP 2020 provides the right frame work for equity, access for large number of people as well as provide the flexibility to adapt to regional requirements and also a focus provided by government, according to Dr Seshadri Ramkumar, Professor at  Texas Tech University.  “ The 5 +3+3 +4 system is designed to develop an analytical mind. In Europe, kids go to school at 5 years and in US four years.  A child in India will have 15 years of schooling in such a way that his or her overall personality develops with cognitive skills. This is important for creation of new knowledge, creation of supportive innovation and carrying out research,” Dr Seshadri Ramkumar added. The NEP 2020 has given a framework for the states to pick and choose the best options for them and since education is in the Concurrent List of Constitution of India.Crisis ManagementThe education from school to college levels is not based on what is happening around us.   “In the meeting of Board of Studies, teachers don't want to remove anything they studied in their student days because they think they are still relevant and then add new material on top of it. But the hours allotted to teach the syllabus remains the same,” according to Dr Bhasi. The major problem with schools and colleges is that they don’t teach crisis management or conflict resolution which is very vital in an industry setting. In this scenario, when students start working they end up making mistakes or learning from them, according to Arvind Mariyappan, textile technology and advisor to Vector Consultants, Bangalore. 
#Make research and innovation relevant to society by finding solutions to India’s problems#Students can be involved in problem solving and research activities at school
#Promotion of patents at college or university levels has to done with focus on commercialization and its utility rather than getting a better NAAC score.
#Expired patents can be used at zero cost to solve problems or overcome some challenges in industry or for common man.
#Teachers should involve in continuous research and update their domain expertise.
#Revise BEd curriculum to include only the most relevant topics
#Entrepreneurial learning, skill development and innovation should be part of school curriculum
#School students should be able to connect what is learnt in classroom to what is happening around them.