There was a moment last week when leaders of top institutes in India present at the FICCI Higher Education Summit might have felt the need to stop and reflect. The innovation prize was not given out because the jury assessing applicants for the award decided no one was worthy of the honour.
While that might not be an indictment of all universities or colleges in India as many had not applied for the prize, it was amply clear that the time had come for building support to aid and facilitate research and improve science collaborations with emphasis on innovation to improve the overall academic outlook of the country.
Which is why the meeting of UK’s minister for universities, science and cities Greg Clark with Indian minister for science and technology Harsh Vardhan last week brought cheer to those concerned about the state of research in India. Both ministers at the fourth UK-India Science and Innovation Council agreed to take the UK-India research and innovation relationship to a greater level with the announcement of the Newton-Bhabha Fund. Named after top scientists of both countries, Sir Isaac Newton, physicist and mathematician, and Homi Jahangir Bhabha, nuclear physicist, the £50 million (Rs. 485 crore) fund distributed over five years from the UK with equivalent resources from India is aimed at strategising science, research and innovation cooperation.
Speaking to HT Education in New Delhi during his visit, minister Clark said he was delighted so much could be achieved during his visit given Dr Vardhan’s recent move to the science ministry. “With the change of minister, we thought we would just have advanced discussions and sign an agreement at a later date. The fact that we were able to sign it is wonderful. Now, all that we need to do is implement plans,” he said. Areas of research will include mental health and substance abuse, women and children’s health, cancer biology, translational regenerative medicines in neuroscience and antimicrobial resistance.
The UK’s Medical Research Council (MRC) and Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) will jointly work on the mental health and substance abuse projects. About £10 million will go into the women’s and children’s health project funded by the MRC, Department of International Development (DFID) and India’s Department of Biotechnology (DBT).
Up to £7 million has been allocated for the partnerships in cancer biology, translational regenerative medicines in neuroscience and antimicrobial resistance, to be funded by MRC and DBT. “Through our dialogues with the Indian government, we identified microbial resistance as an important research area. We are going to be looking at data which is a good example of where disciplinary boundaries are dissolving. Lots of advances in medicine come from analysis of data that requires computing capacity,” Clark said.
Another obvious topic of interest, the UK minister added, was cities (also a part of his portfolio). “Climate change is again important as there is something particularly fruitful about collaboration with India because geographical issues make it a country suited to study of climate change,” he said.
An urgent need was also felt to promote greater diversity in science leadership “as we see an underrepresentation of women at the top,” he added.
One of the highlights of Clark’s meeting with Vardhan was the Indian minister’s proposal to look at the application of research. Keeping that in mind, a UK-India summit on innovation would be held by the end of 2015-16.
Collaborations between the two countries have yielded rich results. “We have 35 million young people in India who have benefited from the trainer initiatives through our collaborations, there have been 25,000 researchers so these interactions have cumulatively built up to substantial gains,” Clark added.
His biggest hope from these research projects, Clark said, was that these would be oversubscribed. “I am confident that the interest generated would be far in excess of what would actually be available.”
On another new initiative, Generation UK India, supporting, over five years, visits from 25,000 young people from the UK to India for skilling and work experience, Clark said, “It is hugely exciting. We have been very fortunate to benefit from the quality of our universities (in the UK) but there have been relatively few students going the other way. Now, UK students will benefit from being in India and gain through the experience. The result will be that friendships will be made which will last a lifetime,” he concluded.
Newton-Bhabha PHD placements programme
In India, the application is open to existing Innovation in Science Pursuit for Inspired Research (INSPIRE - developed by the Department of Science and Technology) PhD fellows who have completed at least two years of research. For details, check www.britishcouncil.in
# Visa fee, economy class international airfares and overseas travel insurance incurred by PhD students
# In-country costs including accommodation and stipend for PhD students
AIMS OF THE PROGRAMME
# To develop individual capacity through international training and development opportunities
# Build cultural understanding, and foster long-term sustainable researchcollaborations
# Develop international joint training pathways
Should be submitted by a PhD student with endorsement from both the sending and receiving supervisors with the latter’s confirmation that they will host the students; stay duration and fees
There is a need to promote greater diversity in science leadership as we see an underrepresentation of women at the top Greg Clark, UK minister for universities, science and cities