India’s science management

India’s science management


In the pursuit of national ambitions and economic progress, harnessing scientific advancements has been a global imperative. Recognizing this, the Indian government is undergoing significant changes in its science establishment, evident in the establishment of the National Research Foundation (NRF) and the restructuring of the Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO).


GS – 03 (Government Policies & Interventions, Growth & Development)


Science and Engineering Research Board of India, Prime Minister, Climate Change, GDP

Mains Question:

Evaluate the challenges faced by India’s science administration in optimizing efficiency and resilience. Discuss the potential benefits of separating scientific roles from administrative responsibilities, drawing parallels with global practices. Propose actionable reforms to address the systemic issues and enhance India’s scientific contributions on the global stage. (250 words)

National Research Foundation (NRF):


  • The National Research Foundation (NRF) is a proposed entity set to replace the Science and Engineering Research Board of India (SERB). It aims to galvanize interdisciplinary research to propel India’s ambitious development agenda by fostering impactful knowledge creation and translation.


  • Facilitate interdisciplinary research to address India’s developmental challenges.
  • Minimize redundancy in research efforts.
  • Promote the translation of research findings into effective policy and practice.

Key Features:

  • NRF, presided over by the Prime Minister, will encompass 10 major directorates spanning science, arts, humanities, innovation, and entrepreneurship.
  • An 18-member board, including distinguished Indian and international scientists, government officials, and industry leaders, will govern NRF.
  • Registered as a society, NRF will operate with an independent secretariat.

Anticipated Outcomes:

  • Increase India’s R&D investment from 0.7% to 2% of GDP by 2030.
  • Elevate India’s global scientific publication share from 5% to 7% by 2030.
  • Cultivate a diverse pool of talented researchers across various disciplines and sectors.
  • Develop innovative solutions for India’s developmental challenges.
  • Translate scientific knowledge into tangible social and economic benefits.

Rationale for NRF:

  • Low R&D Investment: India’s R&D expenditure-GDP ratio is a mere 0.7%, significantly below the world average, hindering innovation and progress.
  • Limited Research Output: India lags in patents and publications, with disproportionately lower numbers compared to global counterparts.
  • Inequitable Research Opportunities: Research funding often concentrates in elite institutions, neglecting marginalized areas and universities.
  • Fragmented Research Landscape: Siloed research efforts lead to resource wastage and duplication of endeavors.
  • Private Sector Participation: While the government contributes 56% to R&D spending, the private sector’s involvement is relatively low compared to technologically advanced nations.
  • Neglect of Social Sciences and Humanities: Funding bias toward natural sciences and engineering sidelines crucial contributions from social sciences and humanities.

Dimensions of the Article:

  • R&D Expenditure and Prioritization
  • Dominance of Public Sector in Science
  • Role of Senior Scientists
  • Challenges in Scientist-Administrators Paradigm
  • Conflicts of Interest and Quality Concerns
  • Historical Roots of Systemic Issues

R&D Expenditure and Prioritization:

  • India’s meager spending on research and development, just around 0.7% of GDP, raises concerns, especially when compared to the United States (3.5%) and China (2.4%).
  • Effective allocation of funds becomes crucial. The scientific administration needs to prioritize high-impact projects to make the most of limited resources.
  • Even in domains traditionally strong, such as space exploration, India faces challenges. The Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) ranks eighth globally in launch numbers, and foreign startups outpace on key technologies like reusable rockets.
  • In nuclear energy, delays in adopting small modular reactors and unrealized ambitions in thorium highlight a waning lead. In crucial areas like genomics, robotics, and artificial intelligence, India lags significantly.

Dominance of Public Sector in Science:

  • India’s scientific landscape is predominantly shaped by the public sector, leading to bureaucratic issues such as slow funding approvals and uneven decision-making across funding levels.
  • The challenge lies not just in low expenditure but also in the lack of a commitment to long-term funding for critical projects, crucial for robust science management.

Role of Senior Scientists:

  • The distinctive feature of India’s science administration is the overwhelming influence of senior scientists.
  • Their multifaceted roles, from academic pursuits to administrative responsibilities, raise questions about accountability.
  • The assumption that good scientists make good science administrators is challenged by the actual performance of institutions.

Challenges in Scientist-Administrators Paradigm:

  • The prevalent belief that scientists are naturally equipped to administer scientific institutions proves faulty.
  • Administration demands a different skill set, including tact, realism, flexibility, and firmness, qualities often incongruent with scientific pursuits.
  • The lack of comprehensive training in metrics selection results in counterproductive outcomes, where entire projects suffer due to minor issues.

Conflicts of Interest and Quality Concerns:

  • The system’s inherent conflicts of interest, with scientists holding administrative control within the same institution, lead to red tape and compromised quality control.
  • Instances of plagiarism, paid publications, and under-the-table dealings tarnish the scientific culture. Careers and projects suffer due to competition, egotism, and the absence of a systematic transfer system.

Historical Roots of Systemic Issues:

  • Rooted in post-Independence circumstances, the concentration of high-end equipment in specific institutions led to gatekeepers.
  • The gatekeepers, controlling critical equipment, became power centers, perpetuating a system where scientists had to pay tributes to gain favors. This system, over time, eroded the quality of appointments, awards, and scientific outcomes.

Way Forward and Conclusion:

  • Redefining Administrative Roles: To enhance efficiency and outcomes, a reevaluation of the roles of scientists and administrators is essential. The emphasis should be on specialized training for administrators, ensuring that they possess the skills necessary for effective resource allocation and decision-making.
  • Implementing Separation for Effectiveness: Embracing a separation of roles, akin to global practices, is imperative. Scientists should be allowed to focus on research, while administrators, selected from an all-India pool with specialized training, handle the intricacies of managing scientific institutions. This approach fosters transparency, efficiency, and accountability.
  • Learning from Business History: Just as the business world recognized the need for business administration courses separate from specific fields in 1908, the scientific community must acknowledge the importance of administrative training. Administration, especially in complex fields like science, requires dedicated learning and practice.
  • Core Reforms for Robust Science Management: Addressing the deep-rooted issues in the Indian science establishment is pivotal for economic and strategic aspirations. The need for core reforms, including administrative training, separation of roles, and a systemic overhaul, cannot be overstated.