British researchers receive a large amount of money from the European Union

View from India: Tap research for societal use

Image credit: National Eye Institute

Societies can thrive when research is leveraged for the needs of the common people.

The nation’s progress on the economic and social front depends on the quality of science and technology research in the country. Therefore, research in science and technology is important for a developing country that aspires to join the ranks of developed nations. Agreed. But research should come out of the lab and reach the masses; it is essential to broaden the footprint of research and ensure that it is oriented towards societal betterment. Research should look at problems that people face and try to solve them through tools or services; support and ideas could come in the form of industry collaborations. Within this, deep tech research calls for patient capital as it needs to be supported for approximately a five to 10-year period. 

Research-based studies need support from the government and industry. “There is an urgent need for both government and private sectors to invest more in science and research. This is the best way forward to solve the many problems that confront us as a nation and humanity as a whole. Our researchers are the country’s frontline warriors in the war against our grand problems. That is why we must encourage them,” said NR Narayana Murthy, founder of Infosys and trustee of Infosys Science Foundation (ISF), at the Infosys Prize 2022 event.

The fact that Indian companies have manufactured Covid vaccines in the country for a population of over 1.3 billion people is commendable. Yet we still have challenges related to health, climate change, water and the environment, among others. “New areas require more fundamental research. Then, deep work in mathematics could get translated into AI applications. Fundamental research may be applied for improving health outcomes. Such research can probably attract investors,” added Salil Parekh, trustee of the ISF.  

All of this points to the fact that the community of researchers needs to expand along with the scope for research. Several factors may help in improving the research scenario. Money, it turns out, may not be only way of giving research better visibility. Perhaps we could look at inculcating curiosity in children from a young age – research teaching in schools and colleges could be reoriented towards thinking beyond the obvious. Research mindset may be inculcated through better facilities, as well as increasing research grants from the government and institutions. The forum for research knowledge dissemination may broaden. “It’s necessary to incentivise research and allocate grants for individuals to pursue research in various spheres. Tech service companies, pharma and payment systems are all outcomes of research,” said TV Mohandas Pai, trustee at the ISF.  

For research to thrive, it requires a conducive environment. When funds flow into research institutions, there needs to be flexibility in operations. For instance, when the research project is on, the flow and momentum of work should continue without much hassle or procedures. “Research can thrive in a world of meritocracy and support from the government and society. Hence, recognising and rewarding research is necessary. By doing so, it will hopefully become a source of inspiration for next-gen researchers. Health scepticism, coupled with curiosity and a daring outlook, could be prerequisites for research,” highlighted Murthy.

Premier institutions like the Indian Institute of Science and the Indian Institute of Technology encourage research through various programmes and incubation centres. Industry and government support, along with philanthropic contribution, can go a long way. Philanthropists can help build science capital for research and development. A case in point is the Science Gallery Bengaluru (SGB), which was in the news recently. A not-for-profit public institution for research-based engagement targeted at young adults, the SGB has received a fund of ₹51 crore (510 million Indian rupees, or approximately £5.3m) towards research. The fund is a joint contribution from Kiran Mazumdar-Shaw, the founder of Mazumdar Shaw Philanthropy and chairperson of Biocon & Biocon Biologics; Rohini Nilekani, chairperson of Rohini Nilekani Philanthropies and co-founder and director of EkStep Foundation, and Kris Gopalakrishnan, chairman of Axilor Ventures and co-founder of Infosys.

Promoting and recognising research can go a long way and the Infosys Prize is one such effort. “The Infosys Prize is promoting stellar research in India by identifying and rewarding individual scholars," explained Kris Gopalakrishnan, president of the ISF. "Even as our laureates add to the sum total of human knowledge, their work has real impact. We hope that their work will have far-reaching effects not just in solving our current problems but will set the stage for finding solutions for the existential crises facing humanity such as the effects of climate change, accessible diagnostics and healthcare, challenges of mental health, fulfilment of fundamental human rights, and others.”

In the future, research could be applied to analyse what science and technology can do for society.

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