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Research Environment in India

Context:

The initial batch of fellows for the Vaibhav fellowship program has been announced by the government. The Vaibhav (VAIshwik BHArtiya Vaigyanik) initiative is notable for its unique premise. It is expected to facilitate a genuine exchange of knowledge, innovation, and work culture. The optimistic outlook extends to the potential scenario where non-resident Indian scientists may contemplate a more extended stay in India.

Relevance:

GS2- Education

GS-3

  • Government Policies and Interventions
  • Growth and Development

Mains Question:

‘India’s research institutes need top­ level collaboration across the world.’ In this context, discuss how effective have initiatives like Vaibhav (VAIshwik BHArtiya Vaigyanik) and VAJRA (Visiting Advanced Joint Research) been in India? (10 Marks, 150 Words).

Research Environment in India:

Doctorates and Research Output:

  • India produces a substantial number of science and engineering doctorates, with 25,550 doctorates produced in the year 2020-21, including 14,983 in science and engineering disciplines. In terms of absolute figures, India is ranked among the leading countries globally.
  • However, when considering India’s large population, the number of researchers per million is relatively low compared to other developing nations.

Publications:

  • There has been notable progress in Indian researchers’ contributions to international science and engineering journals.
  • In 2020, they published 149,213 articles, nearly two and a half times more than a decade earlier.
  • Nevertheless, Indian publications constituted only 5 percent of the total 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, securing the sixth position globally in terms of patent filings. However, this figure is considerably lower when compared to countries like China and the United States, which filed millions of patents in the same year.

About Vaibhav:

  • The VAIBHAV Fellowship aims to enhance the research environment in India’s Higher Educational and Scientific Institutions by fostering academic and research collaborations between Indian institutions and leading global counterparts through the mobility of faculty and researchers from overseas to India.

Administered by the Department of Science and Technology (DST) under the Ministry of Science and Technology, the key features of the VAIBHAV Fellowship Programme include:

  • Knowledge Verticals: The program will concentrate on 18 identified knowledge verticals, encompassing areas such as quantum technology, health, pharmaceuticals, electronics, agriculture, energy, computer sciences, and material sciences.
  • Eligibility: The fellowship is open to exceptional scientists and technologists of Indian origin, including Non-resident Indians (NRI), Persons of Indian Origin (PIO), and Overseas Citizen of India (OCI) actively involved in research activities in their respective countries.
  • Collaboration Duration: Selected fellows will have the opportunity to collaborate with Indian Higher Educational Institutions (HEIs), universities, and publicly funded scientific institutions. They may spend up to two months per year for a maximum of three years at an Indian institution of their choosing.
  • Fellowship Grant: VAIBHAV fellows will receive a monthly fellowship grant of INR 4,00,000, supporting their research activities during the collaboration period.
  • Travel, Accommodation, and Contingencies: The fellowship covers international and domestic travel expenses, accommodation, and contingencies, ensuring a conducive research environment for the fellows.
  • Scientists with Indian roots or ancestry are eligible to apply for a three-month annual fellowship over three years.
  • During this period, they are anticipated to initiate a project or launch a technology startup, establish enduring connections with the hosting research laboratory in India, collaborate with the local faculty, and introduce fresh ideas to the field within Indian university and research environments.
  • Officials foresee the development of new relationships as the program gains traction, including the possibility of Indian-origin faculty taking on students, associates, and even overseeing degrees.

About VAJRA (Visiting Advanced Joint Research) Faculty Scheme:

This initiative, introduced by the Department of Science and Technology, facilitates adjunct/visiting faculty positions for overseas scientists and R&D professionals, including Non-Resident Indians (NRI) and Overseas Citizens of India (OCI). The purpose is to undertake high-quality collaborative research in publicly funded academic and research institutions in India.

Key Features of the VAJRA Scheme:

  • Residency Period: VAJRA faculty members are allowed a residency period in India for a minimum of 1 month and a maximum of 3 months per year.
  • Financial Support: VAJRA faculty members receive a lump sum amount of $15,000 in the first month of engagement and $10,000 in subsequent months to cover travel and honorarium expenses.
  • Additional Facilities: While no additional support such as travel, accommodation, or health insurance is provided, the host institute can offer extra facilities if required.
  • Research Engagement: VAJRA faculty engages in cutting-edge areas of Science and Technology, collaborating with one or more Indian partners. They may also contribute to technology departments, startups, etc.
  • Research Contingency Grant: A Research Contingency Grant of Rs 5 lakhs per year of research visit is provided to the Indian host to cover collaborative research expenses.
  • Lecture Support: VAJRA faculty members receive support to deliver lectures in their area of expertise at the host institute, with a provided amount limited to 1 lakh per year.

Goals of the VAJRA Scheme:

  • The primary objective of the VAJRA scheme is to attract top talent from around the world to India for research endeavors. It focuses on promoting areas such as Science and technology, energy, health, advanced materials, and others.
  • VAJRA faculty members are expected to conduct research in priority areas where the nation needs the development of capability and capacity, engaging in collaborative research in publicly funded institutions.
  • Vaibhav is not an original concept, as during this government’s term, the Department of Science and Technology (DST) introduced the VAJRA (Visiting Advanced Joint Research) Faculty Scheme with similar goals.

Distinctions between VAJRA and Vaibhav:

  • Vaibhav is designed exclusively for the Indian diaspora, whereas VAJRA can accommodate individuals of other nationalities.
  • While VAJRA offers more substantial fellowship amounts, it is limited to one-year commitments, in contrast to Vaibhav, which provides lesser compensation but extends to three years.

Relevance of the Above Schemes:

  • The DST, overseeing both programs, reports that nearly 70 international faculty members have participated in India through VAJRA, although concerns about its effectiveness have been raised.
  • Presently, officials assert that both schemes will persist. While promoting collaboration between Indian and foreign universities is commendable, there should be clarity on the specific benefits India aims to derive by focusing specifically on the Indian diaspora.
  • Over the years, extensive discussion has focused on the issue of ‘brain drain,’ where highly skilled researchers opted to work abroad due to a lack of comparable opportunities in India.
  • While economic factors and personal preferences significantly influence such decisions, short-term fellowships play a crucial role in introducing foreign faculty and researchers to the potential for scientific endeavors in India.
  • These programs also serve to highlight existing challenges, such as insufficient funding for basic research, limited involvement of private companies in core research and development, and constraints on academic freedom. This exposure can potentially stimulate policy changes.

Conclusion:

The intense competition for tenured positions in American and European universities has led to a substantial pool of highly skilled scientific talent trained abroad. Encouraging the return or retention of this talent in India could be facilitated through such engagements. However, it is essential to approach these initiatives with realistic expectations. The assumption that scientists of Indian origin are more likely to stay, as implied by the ethno-nationalist restriction, remains to be tested.


February 2024
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