National Research Foundation – in pursuit of science – gets its wings

National Research Foundation – in pursuit of science – gets its wings

National Research Foundation, an initiative by Office of the Principal Scientific Adviser (PSA), Government of India is being formulated to make the pursuit of science, humanities, art & culture accessible and available in the language one is most comfortable with. In Budget for the financial year 2021-22, an outlay of INR 50,000 crores has been proposed for the initiative during the next five years.

In India, the most creative brains and thoughts stemming in regional languages, are lost to English articulation demands. To overcome the challenge, the detailed proposal document is available in 12 major regional languages – Assamese, Bangla, Gujarati, Hindi, Kannada, Malayalam, Marathi, Oriya, Punjabi, Tamil, Telugu and Urdu, other than English. The idea to set up a National Research Foundation (NRF) in India, as a body to catalyse, facilitate, coordinate, seed, grow, and mentor research in institutions around the country, has been in researchers' minds in the nation for many decades. Such a National Research Foundation is one of the key recommendations of the National Education Policy 2020, commissioned by the Ministry of Human Resource Development in 2017. The importance of research across the disciplines has been envisaged for higher education, addressing critical societal challenges and developing enlightened knowledge society, for sustainable development.

As there is no single factor more important to the intellectual, social, and economic progress of a nation, and the enhanced well-being of its citizens than the continuous creation and acquisition of new knowledge, NRF aims to become a major driver of that process for India, helping to sustainably thrust forward the nation's economy, enhance its security, promote well-being and societal progress, and grow India's position as a global leader. The current status of research and innovation investment, research output, and other research impediments are considered raw material in NRF formulation.

Primary objectives of the NRF includes funding of competitive peer-reviewed grant proposals of all types, facilitating research at academic institutions, funding of research infrastructure, increasing of India's role and participation in key areas of national and global importance, acting as a liaison and coordinating amongst researchers, support the development of the next generation of researchers, supporting various activities and initiatives for increasing the participation of women and other underrepresented groups in research, creating a central clearinghouse for the analysis of information and data, recognising outstanding research and progress, and serving as a high-level think tank for the coordination, short- and long-term planning of research in the country and for the recommendation of key policy initiatives to the Prime Minister and the Parliament regarding research, innovation, and education.

The NRF will be governed by an 18-member Governing Board consisting of eminent researchers and professionals in their respective fields. Experts may be drawn from within the country or internationally, and it is expected that about a third of the Board member would be women. A President, a Vice-President, and a Chief Operating Officer (COO) of the NRF will be searched for and selected by the NRF Board, based on research credentials, integrity, and capacity for leadership and administration. The President will serve a six-year term at the rank of Secretary to the Government of India. The President of the NRF will periodically meet with Secretaries of all Ministries and with Chief Secretaries of all States and Union Territories in a conference to assess their research needs and programmes, and formulate potential collaborations. The President, Vice-President, and COO will help set the culture of the NRF, which will be one of excitement and encouragement for attaining high-quality research in India across institutions and fields. The NRF will consist of ten major Directorates – Natural Sciences, Mathematical Sciences, Engineering, Environmental & Earth Sciences, Social Sciences, Arts & Humanities, Indian Languages & Knowledge Systems; Health; Agriculture; and Innovation & Entrepreneurship – with the provision to fuse or add additional Directorates whenever it may be determined to be beneficial by the NRF Board.

NRF – the institution – will be conferred with the autonomy to set its own finances, governance, and statutes. It will competitively fund research in all disciplines across the academic landscape. Its office of information and data management will dynamically, on a near-real-time basis, collect information on how the R&I ecosystem is supported by the public, private, industry, philanthropic, and other sources. The NRF, through its Office of Missions and Megaprojects, will fund National Mission Projects (NMPs) that help create or grow world-class research facilities and Centres of Excellence (CoEs) in major thrust areas of research that are considered necessary for India's future. Each NMP would aim to establish or continue to support and grow an existing global class research CoE for the given mission, run by top researchers in the field, who in turn would aim to establish and expand a network of participating researchers, students, institutions, laboratories across the region or the nation to promote a regional or national research ecosystem in the given field.

Office of PSA solicits your thoughts and views on leveraging NRF to meet the goal of excellence and inclusiveness in all fields and all regional languages. The valuable and innovative suggestions will find a place in the implementation document of NRF 2020.

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