The influence of ancient Indian history upon the contemporary world has been deeply consequential, characterised by a tradition of meticulous research, discerning thought, and scientific progress. Often hailed as the ‘cradle of modern civilization,’ ancient Indian intellect interweaves a tapestry of diverse domains, encompassing science, medicine, spirituality, linguistics, metaphysics, astronomy, and more. In the realm of humanities, sagacious Indian thinkers propagated ingenious notions, endowing modern society with India’s literary, artistic, and philosophical concepts. The archival treasures of antiquity served as the architects of civilization, encapsulating knowledge pertaining to physiology, Ayurveda, psychology, and other subjects, their roots tracing back to the earliest tenets of Indian history.
Nalanda University fostered arts and academia during 5th and 6th centuries
Nalanda University, an intellectual epicentre of antiquity, resided at the heart of sagacity and erudition, standing as one of the world’s most ancient seats of learning. Its faculty comprised erudite scholars and venerable sages, rendering it a preeminent hub of learning in ancient India. Nalanda played a pivotal role in fostering the patronage of arts and academia during the 5th and 6th centuries CE, an era often dubbed the ‘Golden Age of India.’ Its curriculum encompassed a diverse spectrum of subjects, including the Vedas, grammar, medicine, logic, and mathematics. Remarkably, its campus endures to this day, bearing witness to centuries-old heritage of knowledge. Our nation owes a debt of gratitude to its forebearers, who laid the bedrock of wisdom. Luminaries such as Aryabhatta, Bhaskaracharya, and Brahmagupta in mathematics and science, along with Sushruta in medicine, and numerous others have collectively contributed to moulding India into a repository of ancient wisdom. Charaka, Kanad, Nagarjuna, and their peers made monumental contributions to the advancement of the nation.
Colonial rule saw deliberate attempt to impose foreign curricula and undermine India’s rich heriatge
The trajectory of India’s educational legacy, while adorned with remarkable accomplishments, also bears testament to epochs of adversity brought on by foreign invaders and colonial dominion, notably the British. These external forces endeavoured to reshape India’s educational framework to align with their own agendas, often leading to the erosion of indigenous knowledge traditions. The period of colonial rule saw deliberate attempts to impose foreign curricula, languages, and values while undermining the rich tapestry of India’s own intellectual heritage. In response, concerted efforts to revive indigenous educational traditions while integrating modern methodologies were made.
PM Modi played vital role reshaping India’s educational landscape
Visionary leaders like Raja Ram Mohan Roy, Dayanand Saraswati, Vivekanand recognized that education must not merely be a tool for disseminating information, but a means to cultivate critical thinking, innovation, and a strong sense of cultural identity. Building upon this legacy, Prime Minister Narendra Modi has played a pivotal role in reshaping India’s educational landscape. Under his leadership the nation achieved remarkable feats, epitomized by the pioneering DNA-based COVID vaccine and the revelation of lunar surface water through the Chandrayaan mission, cementing India’s stature on the global stage. Initiatives such as “Skill India” and “Make in India” underline his vision to equip the youth with practical skills and entrepreneurship acumen, aligning education with real-world requirements.
Over the past nine years, India’s policies in Science, Technology, and Innovation (STI) have flourished. These encompass a spectrum of strategic initiatives, including the Indian Space Policy (2023), National Geospatial Policy (2022), National Education Policy (2020), National Policy on Electronics (2019), National Innovation and Startup Policy (2019), National Health Policy (2017), Intellectual Property Rights Policy (2016), and a plethora of others. Notable among these endeavours are initiatives such as the National Quantum Mission (2023), One Health Mission (2023), National Deep Ocean Mission (2021), and the Atal Innovation Mission.
National Research Foundation (NRF) Bill and National Education Policy (NEP) 2020, watershed reforms
An additional jewel in India’s crown is the enactment of the National Research Foundation (NRF) Bill. This seminal legislation is engineered to revolutionize the nation’s research and education landscape. Moreover, a historic stride has been taken with the Indian Parliament ushering in a transformative epoch, a direct reflection of well-coordinated endeavours to invigorate research, foster innovation, and elevate the calibre of education. These collective pursuits stand as a testimony to India’s unwavering dedication to scientific progress and its burgeoning impact on the global stage.
The National Education Policy (NEP) 2020, a watershed reform, underscores a comprehensive and interdisciplinary approach to education. This policy aligns seamlessly with India’s objective of nurturing research, innovation, and creativity within educational institutions. It distinctly accentuates interdisciplinary studies, the fusion of vocational and academic streams, and the imparting of real-world practical skills to students. Its underlying mission is to equip the youth with the capacity to tangibly contribute to their nation’s progress.
The NEP’s visionary essence is tangibly embodied in the establishment of the National Research Foundation (NRF), which is poised to provide strategic guidance for research, innovation, and entrepreneurship spanning a spectrum of disciplines including natural sciences, engineering, technology, humanities, and social sciences. The NRF’s role in fostering collaboration between academia, society, industry, and government harmonizes effectively with the NEP’s intent of bridging the gap between education and real-world application. However, there is much to overcome in the field of research and development in the country.
Boost in funding for scientific research
Statistical data from the Science and Engineering Research Board (SERB) reveals a noteworthy allocation of approximately 65% of research funds over the past decade to nationally significant institutions such as IISc, IITs, and IISERs. In contrast, state universities, housing a larger cohort of researchers, received a mere 11% of funds due to the competitive grant-based research funding system. This disparity in funding is further magnified by the comparatively limited research infrastructure at state universities in comparison to national academic and research facilities. Notwithstanding this, collaborations among academia, industry, and international partners within Indian universities remain somewhat nascent. At present, it is critical to come up with a strategy and steps to fulfil this gap.
Challenges being faced in higher educational institutions
India has made significant innovations in technology and has invaluable resources of skilled manpower. However, we have many challenges still to overcome. The higher educational institutions (HEIs) in India need to be directed towards more facilities for research. The country’s expenditure on research is one of the lowest in the world, with a total of only 0.7% attributed from its GDP. Out of this, the government undertakes 60% of the funding, while the private sector contributes only 40%. Other challenges being faced by the current government is the low funding given to state universities and the bulk of it being allocated to a certain niche set of universities.
With large numbers of students going to these universities, in fact almost 95%, this problem needs to be addressed urgently. Private sector investment needs to be enhanced, and efforts are required towards streamlining the patent process. Research in Indian history and classical languages needs to be enhanced. There is a need to harness the technical resources and scientific acumen of the country’s youth. Providing a strategic direction towards research and development is a tremendous challenge, enthusiastically taken up by the current regime.
Pioneering a forward-looking approach, Prime Minister Narendra Modi envisaged the establishment of the NRF not only as a remedy for the current R&D ecosystem’s challenges but also to engrave a lasting R&D vision for the nation, positioning India as a global R&D front-runner within the next quinquennium.
NRF to play pivotal role in research
The NRF is poised to play an instrumental role in providing strategic direction for research, innovation, and entrepreneurship across various domains such as natural sciences (including mathematical sciences), engineering, technology, environmental and earth sciences, health, and agriculture. Additionally, it is slated to facilitate cross-disciplinary collaboration bridging scientific and technological realms with the humanities and social sciences. The government plans to involve the private sector in a more elaborate way, reforming the existing guidelines for CSR (Corporate Social Responsibility). Overall, a much more sophisticated policy framework will be developed for knowledge-sharing and research through the National Research Foundation Bill.
Functioning under the aegis of the Department of Science and Technology (DST), the NRF will be governed by a distinguished Governing Board comprising eminent researchers and professionals from diverse fields. The Prime Minister will hold the ex-officio role of President of the Board, flanked by the Union Minister of Science & Technology and the Union Minister of Education as ex-officio Vice-Presidents. Overseeing the NRF’s operations will be the Principal Scientific Adviser to the Government of India, who will preside over the Executive Council.
The NRF will certainly galvanize collaborations encompassing academia, industry, government departments, and research institutions, serving as a platform to engage industries and state governments alongside scientific and line ministries. This initiative places pronounced emphasis on formulating policies and regulatory frameworks that foster collaboration and increased industry investment in R&D.
With an estimated outlay of Rs. 50,000 crores over five years (2023-2028), the NRF’s funding will comprise three components: Rs 4,000 Cr from the SERB Fund, Rs. 10,000 Cr from the NRF Fund (with 10% allocated for innovation), and a substantial Rs. 36,000 Cr contributed by industries, philanthropic organizations, international institutions, and more. This initiative signifies a remarkable escalation from the current annual Rs. 800 Cr allocation to SERB by the Central Government, complemented by a fresh infusion of Rs. 36,000 Cr from the private sector over five years.
The inception of the NRF heralds one of India’s most transformative strides toward attaining global R&D leadership and nurturing technology self-sufficiency in the foreseeable future. The confluence of NRF’s mission with the goals of the National Education Policy 2020 sets forth a promising trajectory for India’s voyage towards holistic education and innovation-driven eminence. This initiative will help India becoming a knowledge economy and world superpower.
Setting up of Indian Higher Education Commission
Furthermore, in consonance with its steadfast commitment to advancing higher education, India has embarked on the creation of the Indian Higher Education Commission. This visionary endeavour, aligned with the National Education Policy (NEP) 2020, holds the potential to elevate the education landscape to unprecedented pinnacles. The Indian Higher Education Commission aims to revamp and streamline the higher education sector, supplanting the prevailing University Grants Commission (UGC), National Council for Teachers Education and the All-India Council for Technical Education (AICTE) etc with a unified governing and regulatory body. This transformative initiative seeks to elevate education quality, catalyse research and innovation, and cultivate a sense of autonomy and accountability within higher education institutions. It will curtail overlapping, undue delay and synchronise multiple regulatory bodies.
The establishment of the commission stands as a testament to India’s steadfast dedication to nurturing scholarly excellence, propelling innovation, and fostering an environment conducive to cutting-edge research. As India strides forward with the NRF and the Indian Higher Education Commission in tandem, the nation strides towards the forefront of global research and development leadership.
While the NRF Bill or higher education commission presents a promising future, it is not without challenges. Ensuring efficient allocation of funds, preventing research duplication, and maintaining transparency in grant distribution are critical aspects that require meticulous planning. Additionally, sensitizing educational institutions and researchers about the importance of quality research, as well as fostering a culture of continuous learning and innovation, is essential for the NRF’s success.
Amidst an era characterized by dynamic shifts in education and research paradigms, the intertwined trajectory of these initiatives vividly portrays India’s resolute march (under the leadership of Modi ji) towards cultivating an ecosystem that nurtures creativity, propels innovation, and navigates the nation towards self-sufficiency and preeminent global standing. With this shared vision for progress and a commitment to excellence, India stands poised to become a global leader in research, education, and innovation.