Enabling the availability and accessibility of scientific infrastructure through SRIMAN
Scientific infrastructure is the foundation of research and innovation. Facilitating the availability, accessibility, and sharing of Scientific Research Infrastructure (RI) needs to become a key goal, particularly for countries with limited resources, like India. Enhancing access to scientific and technological (S&T) infrastructure can promote S&T-based development and augment research’s social and economic consequences. This priority is challenged by the capital-intensive nature of RI, which reduces the feasibility of its wide-scale replication.
In the recent past, India has witnessed growth in acquiring research equipment. However, the development and recurring maintenance of RI is an expensive affair. The challenge is escalated because the Indian research ecosystem is highly dependent on imported instruments. A 2013 study by the National Science and Technology Management Information System (NSTMIS), Department of Science and Technology (DST) reveals that 94% of research equipment used in India is imported while only 6% is manufactured indigenously. The majority of such equipment is not shared and is marred with maintenance issues and lack of spares which adds to RI costs. In addition, access to equipment and its proper utilisation also needs attention. Therefore, developing a sharing mechanism and promoting a culture of collaboration between institutions and other stakeholders would enable optimum utilisation and better maintenance of RI. Manufacturing indigenous instruments to reduce dependency on imports is also essential. Further, human resource development for operations and management of RI is crucial.
Intending to adopt a new approach that can make RI available to all stakeholders, the DST formulated a draft of the Scientific Research Infrastructure Sharing Maintenance and Networks (SRIMAN) Policy through detailed stakeholder consultation and submitted it to the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) during March 2021 seeking their observation/opinion. The PMO, in different phases, provided a few suggestions for incorporation in the draft and finally, in March 2022, directed the DST to convert this document into a set of guidelines.
The SRIMAN Guidelines aim to promote efficient utilisation and broader access of RI to scientists, researchers, and industry professionals across the country by creating a network of relevant stakeholders. Some of the key highlights of the guideline include:
- Make publicly funded scientific RI available as a valuable public resource by providing better access and sharing for extensive and optimal use of the community
- Improve the efficiency of public expenditure by sharing expensive and state-of-the-art publicly funded RI through online portals, networking and cluster approaches, and incentivisation.
- Promote the Indigenisation of scientific research equipment manufacturing and encourage domestic manufacturers.
- Develop monitoring and support mechanisms for the creation and maintenance of RI to avoid unnecessary duplication in purchasing expensive scientific equipment, thereby minimising the cost of research.
- Ensure simplified and more innovative procurement, maintenance, and disposal methods of scientific RI.
The Guidelines extend to all Government scientific departments, research organisations, and grantee agencies that support the development of scientific RI and all the organisations receiving funds for conducting research and development. Private institutions can also be partners and/or beneficiaries in such endeavours based on mutual agreement.
The implementation of these guidelines will occur under the supervision of DST, probably through the creation of a special purpose vehicle (SPV) or a body/agency funded by the DST. The SPV will have an advisory committee comprising different stakeholders such as the DST and other scientific departments. It will ensure the smooth implementation of the guidelines and carry out the necessary modifications to the guidelines from time to time according to the country’s scientific and economic changes. The SPV will oversee the management of the national portal on RI. The RI portal enables users to reserve time slots across the county, rationalises user charges for similar equipment, allows the collection of usage charges, ensures that the revenues generated are used optimally, and helps in remote tracking of research work being conducted in the country. The SPV will help in capacity building, generate publicity for the available RI, and enable the creation of voluntary advisory groups containing experts in key technology domains.
The SPV will promote networking among the agencies receiving funds to avoid duplication of RI and create a consortium of academic and research institutes, private institutions, S&T councils, and industries in the same vicinity and working in the same domain. When a collection of grantee agencies receives a range amount of funds, the granting agency will facilitate the creation of a Cluster Central Instrumentation Facility to reduce the redundancy of equipment, thus helping acquire more varieties of equipment. In the case of individual institutions, all the pieces of equipment will be placed under an Institutional Central Instrumentation Facility (ICIF), and all autonomous training will be set up in all knowledge institutions. The sharing of RI will also be promoted through incentives and rating systems.
The adoption of SRIMAN guidelines will help transform the scientific instruments in government labs into lucrative assets providing a steady rental income, thereby helping create a sustainable sharing, maintenance, and disposal mechanism of RI. It will also ensure the universal availability and sharing of a public-funded RI to a wide range of stakeholders, particularly in India’s remote, far-flung areas. The availability of RI would improve the quality of the country’s scientific output by providing an efficient means for the researchers from several lesser-known universities who cannot afford expensive RI to contribute more meaningfully to the scientific ecosystem. The successful implementation of the SRIMAN guidelines would help better manage infrastructure, create a national database of expensive RI, and build a national cadre of highly skilled technical operators for RI.
Download Complete Guidelines: Scientific Research Infrastructure Sharing maintenance & Networks (SRIMAN) Guidelines